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Iraq Transition

Deal may boost Iraq constitution vote

Car bombs kill dozens as nation prepares for referendum

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A U.S. helicopter circles Baghdad's Amiriya district Tuesday after a car bomb killed at least four people.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A deal struck in last-minute talks Tuesday night between a major Sunni Arab party and the Shiite-Kurd coalition could aid approval of the proposed Iraq constitution this weekend, sources involved in the talks told CNN.

The sources asked to remain anonymous because the sensitive agreement has not been formally made public. An announcement was expected Wednesday.

The deal involves changing the constitution to remove the de-Baathification process -- an effort to eliminate vestiges of ousted leader Saddam Hussein's Baath party -- the sources said.

In return, the Iraq Islamic Party indicated it would withdraw its opposition to the document to be voted on Saturday in a nationwide referendum, according to the sources.

Other Sunni politicians, however, indicated they still won't support the proposed document, raising the likelihood of a political division in the Sunni Arab community over the issues.

According to early details of the deal, the sources said, the National Assembly would take up the de-Baathification issue after the referendum.

In addition, a committee would be set up within four months of the December general election that could make changes to the constitution. If those changes were approved by the National Assembly, there would be another referendum in 2006.

The goal of Iraqi leaders and their allies has been to create a constitution widely backed by all sectors of society.

After several delays, Iraq's constitutional committee approved a final draft of the document in August, despite the opposition of Sunni Arab leaders. (Full story)

Iraqi authorities say they hope the referendum will help lead to increased stability in the country, where a largely Sunni insurgency has been targeting the Kurdish and Shiite-dominated government, U.S.-led coalition forces and Iraqis regarded as their supporters.

But if the measure is rejected by two-thirds of voters in three of Iraq's 18 provinces, a new government must be formed and the constitution process would begin again. Earlier this month, lawmakers removed that provision but restored it days later amid criticism. (Full story)

Much of the nation's minority Sunni population, which dominated under the rule of dictator Saddam Hussein, boycotted January's vote for a transitional National Assembly.

The government announced over the weekend there would be a four-day national holiday ahead of Saturday's vote and that 70,000 Iraqi troops and police would provide security.

About 152,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, up from 140,000 over the summer, a short-term increase that will last at least through the referendum, according to the Pentagon.

Some troops scheduled to go home before the vote were kept on duty until it is over, a spokesman said last week.

Series of attacks

A suicide car bomb killed 30 people and wounded 45 Tuesday in a busy marketplace in the northern city of Tal Afar, the worst in a series of attacks four days before the referendum.

Iraqi and U.S. officials have predicted that insurgent violence will surge in the days leading to the referendum in an effort to keep voters from the polls.

A bomber drove a vehicle painted to look like a taxi into a group of shoppers in a vegetable market at about 11 a.m. (3 a.m. ET), according to Khasro Goran, deputy governor of Nineveh province.

In a separate attack Tuesday in Baghdad, a suicide car bomb whose target was an Iraqi army convoy killed at least four people near a gas station in the western neighborhood of Amiriya, police said. Earlier, police said the Iraqi army reported at least 20 dead.

In the northern city of Mosul, two suicide car bomb attacks hit within a half-hour of each other Tuesday.

The first came around 1:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m. ET) and targeted an American military convoy, killing one civilian, according to the U.S. military. No casualties were reported in the second attack, and the military said the target was unknown.

In other violence Tuesday, gunmen fired on a taxi in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, killing two policewomen and the driver, a Baghdad police official said.

Earlier in the same neighborhood, a remote-controlled car bomb attack on an Iraqi police patrol wounded two policemen and a civilian, the police official said.

In eastern Baghdad, a roadside bomb wounded two civilians near Al-Sha'ab soccer stadium Tuesday morning, the official said.

Elsewhere in eastern Baghdad, nine police commandos were wounded when gunmen attacked their patrol in the Ghadeer district, the official said.

Police followed the gunmen's car and captured three men inside. Police also found rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other weapons, the official said.

In the same district, attackers hit the convoy of Iraq's interior minister with a homemade bomb, wounding three security guards, the police official said. It was not known if the minister was in the convoy, the official said.

Other developments

  • The Commission for Public Integrity in Iraq has indicted 23 former senior officials from Iraq's interim Defense Ministry on embezzlement charges, Radhi Al-Radhi, the head of the panel, said Tuesday. Former interim Defense Minister Hazem Shaalam is at the top of the warrant list from the panel of three investigative judges. Three of the indicted officials have been arrested, but Shaalam was not among them.
  • At least 57 terror suspects were detained and two others killed Tuesday by U.S. and Iraqi troops following a series of searches in southern Baghdad, according to the coalition press office.
  • A car bomb killed a U.S. soldier Monday outside a checkpoint near the International Zone. The death brought the number of U.S. troops killed since the start of the Iraq war to 1,963.
  • CNN's Arwa Damon, Enes Dulami, Cal Perry, Aneesh Raman and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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