IRAQ Sunni Arabs urged to accept constitution
A second upgrade to make U.S. body armor safer is under way.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- American and U.N. diplomats stepped up pressure Saturday on Sunni Arabs to accept a new constitution with only two days before the deadline for its approval. A top Sunni official said his group would never accept terms that would lead to the division of the country.
President Jalal Talabani predicted a draft constitution will be ready by Monday's deadline, and a Kurdish official said the draft would be presented to parliament with or without Sunni approval.
With time running out, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and U.N. envoy Ashraf Qazi met separately with Sunni leaders but failed to persuade them to accept a federal system.
"We will not be subdued and will continue to cling to our stance," Sunni negotiator Kamal Hamdoun said. "We don't accept federalism ... We don't want federalism. We are confident that federalism means division, and federalism cannot be approved at this time."
The final negotiations on the document -- a key part of the political process the United States is counting on to curb a Sunni-dominated insurgency -- took place against the backdrop of continuing violence.
Bombs and gunfights killed at least 12 people, and a U.S. armored vehicle was set ablaze in eastern Baghdad. No American casualties were reported.
In his weekly radio address, President Bush said Saturday that the Iraqi constitution "is a critical step on the path to Iraqi self-reliance."
Talabani told reporters that negotiations were concentrating on the question of whether to transform Iraq into a federal system and the role of Islam. Sunnis have accepted the 14-year-old Kurdish self-ruled area in the north but do not want to see the system repeated elsewhere.
Negotiations were thrown into a tailspin Thursday when the leader of the biggest Shiite party, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, called for a Shiite autonomous government in central and southern Iraq, including the southern oil fields. That enraged Sunni Arab delegates, who fear federalism will lead to the disintegration of Iraq.
Hamdoun said the Sunnis did not consider themselves bound by any agreements worked out between the Shiites and Kurds. Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish parliamentarian and member of the committee drafting the constitution, said the Shiites and Kurds had reached a number of agreements and were working to persuade the Sunnis to join them.
Body armor upgrade
Meanwhile, for the second time since the Iraq war began, the Pentagon is replacing body armor for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, citing a need for better protection that can withstand the strongest of attacks from insurgents, a spokesman said Saturday.
The effort, which began more than a year ago, would upgrade the protection used by more than 500,000 soldiers as well as civilian employees and news reporters. The first upgrade installed ceramic protective plates in the vests and was completed in early 2004.
Defense officials acknowledge the replacement processes have been slowed in part by debates over what is best for the troops. The current replacement is expected to take several more months to complete, said an Army official, who requested anonymity.
Pentagon spokesman Paul Boyce said Saturday, "Obviously, the body armor is manufactured and tested to exceptionally high standards. This is not the type of technology that is readily available from a local hardware store. It's very exact.
In other news concerning Iraq:
* U.S. forces raided an insurgent facility in northern Iraq last Tuesday that may have been producing an unspecified type of chemicals, the U.S. military said Saturday. It was unclear what was being produced or whether the materials were intended for weapons, the statement added.
UMore than 100 Italian troops whose tours in southern Iraq have ended are not being replaced, apparently marking the beginning of the country's withdrawal from Iraq ahead of schedule, the Italian daily La Stampa reported Saturday.
U Four civilians died when a roadside bomb exploded near Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, police said. Two Iraqi police officers also were shot to death in Samarra.
U Police Maj. Ahmed Kamil was killed in an ambush in western Baghdad.
U An Iraqi soldier was shot to death in the Dora district of south Baghdad, police said, while a civilian was killed in a bombing there.