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Iraqi negotiators agree on major constitution sticking point

At issue: Role of Islam in future government

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi negotiators have reached agreement on one major roadblock to a new Iraqi constitution and an agreement could be reached on another as soon as tonight, a senior Iraqi official told CNN on Sunday.

Negotiators clarified the role of Islam in the constitution, said Hachim al-Hassani, speaker of the National Assembly. Al-Hassani said the compromise language called Islam "a main source of legislation" -- wording that he said concerned him and women's rights advocates.

The idea of federalism -- splitting the country into as many as three separate autonomous regions -- is the other stumbling block delaying a draft constitution. Those issues prompted the National Assembly to extend the August 15 deadline to Monday.

Al-Hassani expressed optimism, while saying a second deadline extension was possible.

"We are still hopeful ... that we can work out differences today and will come up with draft tonight probably and present it tomorrow," al-Hassani said.

On the eve of last week's deadline, Iraqi officials also had said the negotiators were "close to" a deal or, in some cases, had reached a deal.

The federalism issue hinges on control of Iraq's oil reserves, which are mostly contained in the Shiite majority south and the Kurdish majority north. Sunni Arabs, who largely live in the oil-devoid central areas, oppose a federalist system that would keep oil profits in the hands of regional governments.

Some officials said the negotiators are seeking a solution that would keep control of oil revenues in a central government.

Kurdish leaders, while pushing for autonomy, are shying away from the idea of the right to self-determination, a term that implies independence, not just autonomy.

Some Shiites, particularly the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, have come out for an autonomous region in the Shiite south.

Sunni Arabs and other Shiites, particularly those in the ruling government, oppose strong decentralization, and want a unified Iraq.

The time set down by the transitional law for a referendum on the document is no later than October 15.

Tariq Aziz's family visits

The family of former Saddam regime official Tariq Aziz visited him in custody Saturday.

According to his attorney, Aziz's meeting with his wife, Violet, his daughters Zaynab and Saja, and his sister Amal and her son lasted about 30 minutes. He was allowed to receive the books and other items his family brought.

"It was a nice meeting, and the family was relieved after seeing him," attorney Badie Aref said. Aref also said that the family would be able to visit Aziz more in the coming months,

Although Aziz and other senior aides are in the legal custody of Iraq, they are under U.S. guard.

Aziz was perhaps the Iraqi official most recognized by Westerners, with his white hair, glasses and articulate statements in fluent English. The former Iraqi deputy prime minister surrendered on April 25, 2003, after the fall of Baghdad. He was No. 25 on the U.S. list of most-wanted Iraqis.

Since his detention Aziz has been writing letters to his family and constantly putting in requests to see them.

An Iraqi special tribunal was set up last year to hear the cases against Aziz, Saddam Hussein and other officials from his regime.

The detainees face preliminary charges of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes.

Other developments

  • A roadside bomb Saturday killed a soldier with the 42nd Military Police Brigade on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. A statement said his vehicle was struck by a homemade bomb and that he died of his wounds at the 86th Combat Support Hospital. The casualty brings the number of U.S. troop deaths in the war to 1,862.
  • U.S. military personnel in Baghdad on Saturday shot and wounded the supervisor of the Iraqi Interior Ministry's border control, according to a police source in the capital. Maj. Gen. Ali Hamdi Tahi al-Moussawi is being treated for a stomach wound at Ibn Sina Hospital, in the Green Zone district, where American officials are headquartered. The police source speculated that al-Moussawi may have been shot because his armed guards were mistaken for insurgents.
  • Two insurgents were killed and seven police officers were wounded Saturday in fighting between coalition forces and insurgents in the northern city of Mosul, the military said. Authorities said at least two people were arrested, including a "wanted" Jordanian insurgent. He was carrying a video showing "execution of local nationals," a sniper rifle and medical supplies.
  • CNN's Aneesh Raman and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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