BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP – With a midnight deadline just hours away, Iraq”s political factions met in search of compromise Monday on the issues holding up a draft constitution — federalism, the distribution of oil wealth and the role of religion in the new Iraq.
The initial Aug. 15 deadline was pushed back a week after no agreement was reached. Iraqi officials have insisted they would meet this second deadline and present a final document to the National Assembly, which is dominated by Shiites and Kurds.
Negotiators for all three communities — Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs — met in Baghdad”s fortified Green Zone for a new round of talks Monday. Shiite politician Khaled al-Attiyah said the political leaders "have tentatively agreed that the National Assembly would meet" Monday evening.
Parliament will either receive the draft of the new charter or vote on setting a new deadline. If it doesn”t agree on either, the legislature will have to dissolve.
Issues holding up agreement on the pact include federalism, the distribution of Iraq”s oil wealth, power sharing questions among the provinces and the role of the Shiite clerical hierarchy.
"I am not optimistic," Kamal Hamdoun, a Sunni negotiator, said Sunday.
But Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, said 97 percent of the draft had been completed and he predicted the document would be forwarded to parliament on time.
Shiite lawmaker Saad Jawad Qidil told the state-sponsored Al-Iraqiya that the main issue in dispute was the distribution of oil wealth. "We are waiting for results of discussions," he said.
Government spokesman Laith Kubba said there were two options if political leaders fail to complete the draft: amend the interim constitution again and extend the deadline or dissolve parliament.
On Sunday, Sunni representatives on the drafting committee appealed to the United States and United Nations to prevent Shiites and Kurds from pushing a draft through parliament without their consent, warning it would only worsen the crisis in Iraq.
Underscoring the crisis, much of the country lost electricity Monday due to an attack on a major power line between Beiji and Baghdad last week. The power shortage forced a halt in oil exports from southern Iraq because crude could not be pumped into tankers, Iraqi and foreign oil officials said.
Exports through the country”s other export outlet in the north have been long interrupted due to sabotage on the pipeline and virtually all of Iraq”s exports — about 1.5 million barrels a day — go through the southern ports.
A Sunni backlash on the constitution could complicate the U.S. strategy of using the political process to lure members of the minority away from the Sunni-dominated insurgency. Washington hopes that a constitution, followed by general elections in December, will enable the United States and its international partners to begin removing troops next year.
Shiites and Kurds have enough seats in parliament to win approval for a draft without the Sunni Arabs. But the Sunni minority could scuttle the constitution when voters decide whether to ratify it in the Oct. 15 referendum. Under current rules, the constitution would be defeated if it is opposed by two-thirds of the voters in three of Iraq”s 18 provinces. Sunni Arabs form the majority in at least four.
In other developments:
• Eight policemen and three civilians died when their bus was ambushed by insurgents as it emerged from the Taramiyah police station, just north of Baghdad, Monday morning, police Capt. Karim al-Selman said.
• Eight police commandos were killed in a car bomb explosion at a checkpoint in Baghdad, police said Monday.
• The U.S. military said Monday that two soldiers died when their vehicle overturned during a military operation near Tal Afar. At least 1,868 U.S. troops have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
• Four Iraqi policeman were killed and three wounded Monday when a suicide car bomb slammed into a police checkpoint in Baghdad”s Dora neighborhood, according to Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman, the Interior Ministry spokesman.
• Police in Baghdad said they had found the bodies of six unidentified men in various parts of the capital. All the bodies were handcuffed, bound and shot in the head.
In recent weeks there has been speculation that vigilante death squads have been operating in many parts of the country. Some analysts have warned that the increasing bloodshed demonstrates the alternative to a constitutional power-sharing deal would be a gradual descent into a civil war.