U.S. urges Iraq to finalize charter

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani insists the August 15 deadline must be met.

Published: Monday, August 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 31, 2005 at 11:18 p.m.

Framers of Iraq's new constitution said Sunday they need more time to finish the document, a move that threatens the political momentum on which Washington has staked its strategy for drawing down forces from the country next year.

President Jalal Talabani, however, insisted that the Aug. 15 deadline for parliament to approve the draft charter must be met. A showdown is expected today - the last day under the interim constitution for the committee to seek an extension.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad on Wednesday to insist that the Iraqis finish the constitution on time. But substantial differences remain among the Sunni Arab, Shiite and Kurdish factions despite weeks of intense deliberations.

Underscoring the stakes, the U.S. military announced Sunday that five more American service members died in a pair of explosions in Baghdad the day before. Their deaths brought the number of Americans killed in the last week to 16.

Members of the drafting committee had been warning for weeks that although 90 percent of the document was completed, the 71 members could not agree on a handful of key issues, including federalism, the role of Islam, distribution of national wealth and the name of the country. With no sign of compromise, committee chairman Humam Hammoudi said on his way into a meeting that he would recommend the group ask for a 30-day extension. After the meeting, one of the framers, Bahaa al-Araji, said the recommendation had been accepted.

Al-Araji said Kurdish delegates wanted a six-month delay - the maximum amount under the interim constitution - but that Shiites and Sunni Arabs would accept no more than 30 days.

As word of a possible extension spread, however, U.S. officials began pressuring the Iraqis to stand fast by the timetable, Iraqi officials said. Intensive consultations were under way Sunday night to find a way out of the impasse.

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