Leaders complained of being excluded from negotiations.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Sunni political leaders said Sunday they didn't think they could reach an agreement on a new Iraqi constitution before a midnight today deadline.
If no consensus can be reached, the national assembly could set a new deadline or pass a constitution that alienates the Sunnis, who make up much of the support for the insurgency.
American officials are concerned that a further delay in the constitutional process will delay chances of a possible reduction of troops next year.
The constitution drafters missed an Aug. 15 deadline, and the national assembly voted to give a one-week extension. Iraqi and American politicians said they were confident that one week would be enough.
Feeling left out
But on the eve of the second deadline, Sunni members of the constitution drafting commission complained that they were being excluded from meetings held by negotiators from the other main factions, the Shiites and the Kurds.
"We are outside all of the negotiations these two days," said Sunni negotiator Saleh al-Mutlaq. "They want to pass the constitution without us."
That could happen because the Sunnis largely boycotted last January's election, so they hold few seats in the country's transitional national assembly.
Sunni leaders are urging their community to register to vote in a referendum on the constitution, which will be held by mid-October if a draft is done in time.
If the Shiites and Kurds fashion a document that ignores Sunni concerns, the Sunnis might try to mobilize a vote to kill the constitution in the referendum. Even if they fail, the result may be a constitution that increases the Sunni discontent rather than one that undermines the insurgency.
Negotiators say the areas of dispute involve how much power and autonomy Shiite and Kurdish regions will have, how revenue from oil productions will be distributed, the role of religion in guiding legislation and whether the Kurds will be given the option to secede.
Debating the deadline
"Real agreement for a constitution which will make everybody happy will not be reached" by tonight's deadline, al-Mutlaq said. "They may pass a constitution without us, and this is against the consensus principle that we agreed on, and I don't think it will be legal."
"We won't present a draft without all groups approving," asserted Shiite negotiator Abbas al-Bayati.
He said Sunday that all parties would be in constant meetings through today, and "the general environment for the meetings are positive."
"Let's be optimistic that the leadership are serious and, God willing, you will see tomorrow at the national assembly a draft constitution that is ready to be signed," al-Bayati said.
"I think the differences have been narrowed down. I think they will be able to reach an agreement," said Laith Kubba, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
Sunni leaders responded by saying they were being bypassed in the rush to finish the document. They said the deadline should be pushed back again.
"Things are almost frozen. We might get another extension," said Hussain Shukur al-Falluki, a Sunni member of the constitutional drafting commission.
"We are not planning to withdraw," said al-Mutlaq. "We don't care if it will be extended for a month. We just want a good draft."
Violent incidents reported Sunday included the killing of two employees of the Ministry of Interior who were shot while driving through Baghdad. The Iraqi Islamic Party also said that the head of the party's Baghdad office was found dead Sunday, a week after he had been kidnapped. A car bomb blew up in an entertainment district in Baghdad on Sunday night, killing three people and injuring eight.
Ministry of Interior police also said a general in charge of Iraq's border patrol forces had been shot by American forces Saturday night and died Sunday in a hospital. U.S. military spokesmen had no information on the shooting Sunday night.
An American 20th Engineer Brigade soldier was killed Sunday in Ad Dwar when his vehicle struck a bomb, according to the military.
The military also reported Sunday that an investigation into the death of Mohammed al-Sumaida'ie was being referred to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to determine if a crime had been committed. Al-Sumaida'ie, the cousin of Iraq's U.N. ambassador, was killed June 25 during a search of his family's home by U.S. Marines in western Iraq.