BAGHDAD,(AP)- Negotiators sought Friday to reach agreement on the draft of Iraq”s new constitution by next week”s deadline, as Sunni Arabs and followers of a radical Shiite cleric joined forces to mount protests against the charter”s proposed federal structure.
With Sunni Arab negotiators still holding out against federalism and some other Shiite and Kurdish proposals, pressure of a different kind was mounting on Sunnis who support the constitutional process.
On Thursday, masked gunmen burst into the Sunni grand mosque in the tense city of Ramadi as religious, political, and tribal leaders met to discuss possible Sunni participation in the constitutional process. The gunmen asked participants to end their meeting and then opened fire on them, 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.
On Friday, more than 1,000 people rallied in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, to protest the proposed constitution. The demonstrators chanted slogans against the proposed division of Iraq and called for a centralized form of government.
In Baghdad, anti-federal protests were scheduled in Sadr City and the northern district of Kazimiyah, a Shiite bastion.
The biggest Shiite political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, supports creation of a federal region in the Shiite-dominated areas of central and southern Iraq, including major oil fields. But two other Shiite parties, Dawa of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and the movement of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, do not support the plan.
U.S. officials are anxious for the Iraqis to agree on a draft constitution by the new deadline of Monday night, after they failed to strike a deal by the original Aug. 15 date.
The United States believes a constitution would be a major step in the political transformation of Iraq and would help in time lure disaffected Sunni Arabs away from the Sunni-dominated insurgency. If parliament signs off on the draft, it will go to the voters for ratification in a referendum Oct. 15. But passions are running so high that a charter might sharpen sectarian and ethnic differences here, complicating moves toward political compromise. Talks were underway Friday in the heavily guarded Green Zone of central Baghdad. If the factions do not agree by the new deadline, parliament must dissolve.
Meanwhile, a roadside bomb detonated near a U.S. military convoy in the capital on Friday, but caused no U.S. casualties. One civilian was hurt, a U.S. spokeswoman said. The attack came a day after four U.S. soldiers in Samarra, a religiously mixed city 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad.
In Thursday”s constitutional deliberations, Sunni Arab members of the drafting committee met with al-Jaafari to present their objections to federalism and other issues blocking an agreement. Afterwards, leaders of the factions, Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, conferred late into the night at the home of Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Haitham al-Husseini, a spokesman for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the biggest Shiite party, said he expected a breakthrough within 48 hours, adding that "the work is being done in an inclusive way to overcome the points of disagreements."
However, negotiators were equally upbeat last week until they finally admitted they were deadlocked. Parliament voted unanimously last Monday to extend the deadline by one week after negotiations deadlocked over a number of issues. In addition to federalism, stumbling blocks included Kurdish demands for the right to secede, distribution of oil wealth and the role of Islam.
Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker, said all sides were determined to finish the constitution on time "but the question is, would this draft satisfy the Sunni Arabs” demands." But he also said that if the Shiites and Kurds reached agreement, they would submit the constitution to parliament on time, even if the Sunnis disapprove. The Shiite and Kurd parties control 221 seats in the 275-member parliament. That option was also discussed last week but in the end, parliament decided against it for fear of alienating the Sunni Arabs.
Also in Baghdad, a police officer was killed in a late-night raid on suspected insurgents on Thursday in the Washash district in the north of the city, a spokesman said.
In the northern city of Hawija, insurgents assassinated a city council member Friday, police said. They said the councilman, Aswad Omar Nayef, on his way to Kirkuk, 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad when he was ambushed by gunmen.
Insurgents have killed in the past dozens of government and local officials.