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Iraq Transition

Iraq delays vote on draft constitution

Committee presents document to assembly just before deadline

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Hachim al-Hasani, center, announces the draft constitution during the assembly meeting Monday.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An Iraqi constitution draft was submitted to the National Assembly Monday minutes before a midnight deadline, but three more days are needed to resolve "outstanding" sticking points, the assembly speaker said.

Speaker Hachim al-Hasani was greeted with applause as he told the assembly: "We have received a draft of the constitution."

"But there are some points that are still outstanding and need to be addressed in the next three days," al-Hasani added.

"There is a determination by all parties that there should be a consensus amongst all parties ... so that the constitution is satisfactory to all," he continued.

"All those forces during the coming three days will try, God willing, to reach the consensus over some of the points that are still outstanding."

The delay was the second in as many weeks. The first deadline passed August 15 with the assembly voting for a one-week extension.

A referendum on the constitution has been set for no later than October 15.

But this time the draft was submitted, and any changes in the coming three days will come through amendments.

"After the amendments are made, if all parties agree, then we have a comprehensive constitution," al-Hasani said. "If an agreement is not reached over those issues, then each party will speak for itself."

Issues that need to be deliberated are related to federalism, "de-Baathification," the division of powers within the government and the method of forming provinces, he told reporters after the session ended.

Disagreement has arisen over whether the constitution should mention ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his Baath party.

"We think de-Baathification or mentioning the Baaths or Saddam's name is not the proper thing to do," he said.

While the White House before last Monday had stressed the importance of meeting the constitutional deadline, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad told CNN that "Iraqis have made huge steps forward."

He said two-thirds of the constitutional committee supported the draft, including some Sunni members.

"The next three days Iraqis will work with each other -- and we will help them to the extent that our help is needed -- to broaden the support among the Sunni members," he said after the latest delay.

Sunnis not on board

The submission of the draft brought an end to a tense day, with Shiites threatening to turn over the draft without full agreement from the Sunni members of the committee.

That prompted Sunni negotiator Saleh Mutlag to say the draft would be a losing proposition "for the Americans and even the Iraqis."

"This constitution does not include the Sunni voice," Mutlag said. "It doesn't include other voices in Iraq."

But Shiite member Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer said time constraints required action and that the panel could not wait until the Sunnis reach a consensus.

Jawad al-Maliki, also a Shiite member of the committee, said that "consensus does not mean that every slice has to be approved by consensus."

Committee member Sa'adoon Zubaidy disagreed, saying full consensus was necessary.

(Zubaidy declined to identify himself as a Sunni but didn't participate in the January elections for the transitional assembly. Many Sunnis boycotted that vote.)

Another Sunni Arab member of the committee, Hasan Zeydan, told Iraqi television that if the Shias and Kurds planned to present a constitution only they had agreed on, it would be illegal.

Having the Sunnis' support is seen as key to the success of the constitution and Iraq's new government. Sunnis hold majorities in enough provinces to nix the constitution under the country's transitional law.

One key sticking point that was resolved before the draft was submitted concerned control of Iraq's vast oil reserves.

The lawmakers agreed that Iraqi oil belongs to all Iraqi people and distribution would be carried out by central and regional governments, al-Hasani said.

Most of the country's oil is contained in the Shiite-majority south and the Kurdish-majority north.

Sunni Arabs, who largely live in the oil-devoid central areas, opposed a federalist system that would have kept oil profits in the hands of regional governments.

On Sunday, al-Hasani said that negotiators had clarified the role of Islam in the constitution -- another issue of contention. He said the compromise language called Islam "a main source of legislation." (Full story)

Committee members are still divided on the issue of federalism -- the degree of power held by provinces versus that held by a centralized government.

Al-Sagheer said Shiites and Kurds have agreed on the issue while the Sunnis have not.

Zubaidy called federalism "the mother issue of contention."

Mutlag said that some Shiites as well as Sunnis oppose the draft and predicted the country-wide referendum on it would "fail all over Iraq."

But Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Shiite, told CNN that decentralization was "a pivotal part of the vision of the future" for Iraq.

While pushing for autonomy, Kurdish leaders are shying away from the idea of the right to self-determination, a term that implies independence.

In the United States, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday congratulated the Iraqis for their "statesmanlike decision." And White House spokesman Scott McClellan hailed the day's events "as another step forward in Iraq's constitutional process."

Earlier in Utah, President Bush praised the delegates for "defying the terrorists and pessimists" by working to establish a democratic constitution. (Full story)

Other developments

  • Two U.S. soldiers with Task Force Liberty were killed and two others were wounded Monday in a bombing in Samarra, the U.S. military said. Earlier Monday, the military said that two other American soldiers died late Sunday when their vehicle rolled over during a patrol near Tal Afar. Another U.S. soldier was killed Sunday when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb in Ad Dwar. The deaths raised the U.S. death toll in Iraq to 1,867.
  • Gunmen in three cars opened fire Monday on a minivan in the northern Baghdad suburb of Tarmya, killing eight police officers and three civilians, police said.
  • CNN's Aneesh Raman and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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