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Iraq Transition

Sunni Arab lawmakers debate draft of Iraq constitution

Federalism is a key sticking point

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Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba: "A delay is not a good thing, but it's not a disaster."

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's three major groups -- Kurds, Shiite Arabs and Sunni Arabs -- continue to debate the proposed constitution, striving to win over critics by Sunday.

But consensus has remained elusive since August 15, when legislators missed their first deadline to submit to the transitional national assembly a draft of laws to govern Iraq's new democracy.

That national assembly is scheduled to discuss the draft on Sunday, and a version of that document will appear on a national ballot in October.

Painstaking negotiations between the largely Shiite Arab United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish Alliance --- the blocs that control the power in the transitional national assembly --produced a contested compromise draft in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

The compromise addresses the existence of autonomous regions and de-Baathification, the main sticking points for Sunni Arabs. Saddam Hussein's Baath Party was in charge during his regime and the status of former members is in dispute.

Although one Sunni Arab official said he disliked the plan, the Sunnis continued to huddle over the suggestions.

The Shiite and Kurdish officials hope Sunni Arabs agree to the changes by Sunday, before the draft goes to the transitional national assembly.

Each of the three -- Kurds, Shiite Arabs and Sunni Arabs -- have the power to generate enough support to defeat any document put on the ballot for the Iraqi public's vote. So the negotiators want to create a draft that will be agreeable to all.

"We are hoping that tomorrow we will get some kind of agreement between them and us," said Hachim al-Hasani, assembly speaker. "The purpose of the constitution to me is to bring settlement into Iraq, stability into Iraq. Iraqis need to come together to build a new nation."

The office of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said the document revised overnight is expected to be the draft that goes before voters, even if the Sunnis don't support it.

But a chance of an 11th-hour accord and new developments remains as negotiators continue to maneuver.

The biggest dispute is over autonomous regions -- or federalism. The Kurds have an autonomous region in the north and continue to back decentralized government. Shiite Arabs support a Shiite region in the south, a concept Sunnis oppose.

The compromise sidelines details on federalism, which placates Sunnis, and endorses a Kurdish region, which meets a basic Kurdish demand.

It also puts off another Sunni concern -- de-Baathification. Members of the Baath Party were largely Sunni.

Those issues would become the responsibility of a future government.

Saleh al-Mutlag, head of the Sunni negotiators, said "the situation is not balanced. We came here on the basis that there is compromise but it doesn't exist."

The failure to reach an agreement could create logistical challenges because delays on a draft cut into preparation time for a national vote on the measure on October 15.

If voters reject the the referendum or there isn't an election, the political process takes a few steps back.

The government could dissolve. Voters would then select a new transitional national assembly that would start considering a constitution.

Other developments

  • Nearly 1,000 detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison were released this week at the request of the Iraqi government, Multi-National Forces said Saturday. The detainees were released from Wednesday through Saturday, with the assistance of the Iraqi government, the statement said. They represent all Iraqi communities and had been brought to Abu Ghraib from detention facilities throughout Iraq. (Full story)
  • The group al Qaeda in Iraq -- which has carried out many of the worst attacks, beheadings, and kidnappings in Iraq -- has laid out its ideology in a manifesto. The group vows to "destroy the American empire" and says the insurgency is in better shape than Washington acknowledges. No date was given for the document, which surfaced on an Islamic Web site this week. (Full story)
  • The outgoing commissioner of the Italian Red Cross said the agency treated four "presumed Iraqi terrorists" at its Baghdad hospital to secure the release of two kidnapped Italian aid workers, according to an Italian newspaper. (Full story)
  • CNN's Aneesh Raman, Suzanne Malveaux, Kianne Sadeq and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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