Three Sunnis promoting constitution vote assassinated in northern Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Masked gunmen killed three Sunni Arabs in front of horrified witnesses outside a mosque in Mosul on Friday, after grabbing them as they hung posters urging fellow Sunnis to vote in a referendum on the new constitution.As the Monday deadline to finish the constitution approaches, Sunni Arabs and some Shiites rallied in Baghdad and elsewhere to protest calls for a federated state – a demand of the Kurds and the biggest Shiite party but a key stumbling block to an agreement on the charter.Talks continued into Saturday morning with U.S. officials intensifying pressure on the Kurds to accept Shiite and Sunni demands for a greater role of Islam in government and to abandon their demand for the right to secede, Kurdish officials said.The three members of Iraq’s largest Sunni Arab political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, were seized in a Mosul neighborhood where they were promoting voter registration for the Oct. 15 referendum on the new constitution, said party official Nouredine al-Hayali.They were driven to another neighborhood, shoved against a wall near the Dhi al-Nourein mosque and shot dead while more masked gunmen blocked off a major street, witnesses said. The gunmen then fled in three cars, leaving the bodies behind.It was the second armed attack in as many days against Sunni Arabs participating in the U.S.-backed political process, despite threats from insurgents and al-Qaida’s wing in Iraq.On Thursday, masked gunmen burst into the Sunni grand mosque in Ramadi, 135 miles south of Mosul, as religious, political, and tribal leaders were discussing the constitutional process. The gunmen demanded the meeting end and then opened fire, said Omar Seri, secretary of the governor of Anbar province.Three members of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars and a bodyguard were injured, Seri said.Many Sunni Arabs are considering taking part in the constitutional referendum after having boycotted the Jan. 30 national election ballot – a move that left the once- dominate community with few seats in a parliament dominated by Shiites and Kurds.In recent weeks, various Sunni groups have been urging fellow Sunnis to vote in the referendum and a general election planned for December. The voter-registration deadline is Sept. 1.The United States believes the key to defeating the Sunni-dominated insurgency is to encourage an inclusive political process that would encourage disaffected Sunni Arabs to lay down arms.The entire process hinges on the success of the drafting committee in producing a constitution acceptable to all Iraqi communities by Monday’s deadline. If parliament approves the draft, it goes to voters for ratification in October.However, negotiations in the heavily guarded Green Zone have bogged down over such issues as federalism, distribution of Iraq’s oil wealth, the role of Islam and Kurdish demands for the right to secede – a stand that goes beyond mere federalism.Kurdish negotiators, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, told The Associated Press the Americans were pressing Kurds to accept Shiite and Sunni demands for a greater role for Islam at the expense of women’s rights and civil liberties.A U.S. Embassy spokesman said he was not aware of results of the latest round of talks. If the Kurdish claims are true, it would appear the United States wants to please the Shiite majority in order to get a draft charter by the deadline. Kurds make up between 15 and 20 percent of Iraq’s population, compared to an estimated 60 percent for the Shiites.Last Monday, parliament voted unanimously to grant a one-week extension to finish the draft. Under the interim constitution, however, parliament must be dissolved if the draft is not completed by this final deadline.Federalism appears to be the most contentious issue, drawing opposition not only from Sunni Arabs but also from some factions in the majority Shiite community. Opponents fear it would lead to the breakup of the country.About 1,000 people including Sunnis and Shiite followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rallied in two Baghdad districts Friday, waving Iraqi and Shiite flags and chanting “No to separation, yes to unity.”A similar rally including Sunnis and Shiites was staged in the religiously mixed city of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.”After all, we are one united people whether we are Sunnis or Shiites, Kurds or Arabs,” Hazim al-Aaraji, another al-Sadr aide, told worshippers in a Shiite mosque in Baghdad’s Kazimiyah district during Friday prayers.At a Sunni mosque across town, Sheik Ali Khudr al-Zand warned his congregation not to accept any constitution “that would rip away the unity of the nation.”Elsewhere, residents of Rawah, a Euphrates River town 175 miles northwest of Baghdad, reported gunfire Friday night between U.S. forces and insurgents. No other details were available.Much of the final-stage constitution bargaining has been conducted among parliamentary leaders, which has placed the Sunnis at a disadvantage because of their weak numbers in the legislature.The 15 Sunnis on the committee chose four of their number to represent them in the leadership meetings: Saleh al-Mutlaq, an agronomist; Ayad al-Samarai, a mechanical engineer; Kamal Hamdoun, former chairman of the Iraqi Bar Association; and Haseeb Aref, a political science professor.Although the four are highly educated, they lack the political stature of their Shiite and Kurdish counterparts who won their mandate in elections. The Sunni negotiators answer to a loose association of about 70 tribal and political leaders; that raises questions about their ability to accept compromises that might be a hard sell within their community.The Shiites and Kurds have their own factional differences. The biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, has called for a Shiite federal state in central and southern Iraq, including the southern oil fields.However, the Shiite Dawa Party of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is cool to federalism. Kurds say their demand for the right of secession was pushed by their regional parliament in Irbil, not by the Kurdish negotiators in Baghdad.In other developments Friday:- A roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. military convoy in the capital, injuring one civilian.- Insurgents assassinated a city council member in the northern city of Hawija. Police said gunmen ambushed the councilman, Aswad Omar Nayef, en route to Kirkuk. Insurgents have killed dozens of government and local officials.- One Iraqi policeman was killed in a pre-dawn raid in the Washash district of Baghdad.Vail – Colorado
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