Iraqis Miss Deadline for Interim Constitution

Iraq's U.S.-picked leaders, who failed to meet a deadline for adopting an interim constitution, hope to come up with an agreement in the few days but won't sign it until the end of a Shiite religious holiday, a coalition official said Sunday.

An Estonian soldier was killed when a homemade bomb planted by insurgents went off in northwest Baghdad, an Estonian spokeswoman said Sunday. He was the first Estonian soldier killed by hostile fire since the country gained independence in 1991 and the first coalition trooper killed in action since Feb. 19.

Elsewhere, an Iraqi was killed and another was injured Sunday in Rumaythah, 25 miles north of Samawah, when American soldiers fired on a car that failed to stop when a U.S. military convoy passed by, witnesses said.

The incident caused Japanese Col. Koichiro Bansho, commander of some 230 Japanese soldiers based in Samawah, to cancel his visit to the town.

The coalition official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no signing ceremony for the interim constitution would be held until after Ashoura (search), a 10-day festival commemorating the death of the Shiite saint Imam Hussein (search), a grandson of the prophet Muhammad. The feast ends Tuesday.

Hamid al-Kafaai, a spokesman for the Governing Council, said it would be a day or two before the constitution is unveiled.

"There are no differences, no divisions. There are different points of views and all these have been accommodated. We have a united stand now and the transitional administrative law will be announced soon," he said.

Mahmoud Othman, a Sunni Muslim Kurd on the council, said the talks Sunday were measured.

The delay indicated the deep divisions over how to distribute power among the country's ethnic and religious factions and to balance Islam and secularism. The failure to meet the Saturday deadline was also the latest glitch in U.S. plans to hand sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30.

On Saturday, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer (search), met with members of the Iraqi Governing Council (search) in an attempt to overcome differences, one day after Shiite council members stormed out of talks after a dispute over Islamic law and women's rights.

"There are serious problems," said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, a Shiite member of the Governing Council. But, he added, "we started to learn a new trade that's called compromise."

Council conservatives want to make Islam the basis of Iraqi law, but secularists see that as a possible step toward imposing Islamic law and women fear restrictions on their rights.

Bremer, who must approve the final document, has suggested he would veto a text with the Islamic provision. Liberals on the council and U.S. officials want the document to note Islamic law as only one source for legislation.

Also unresolved is a proposal setting aside 40 percent of positions in the next government for women, Kurdish demands on autonomy in the north, and the shape of a presidency, which some members want to rotate between Iraq's three main groups but which Shiite leaders want to dominate.

The council members were continuing work through the night. Mahmoud said they would finish as "soon as possible," though the coalition official couldn't guarantee a final deal by Sunday.

The council — hand-picked by the United States to reflect the diversity of Iraq's ethnic and religious groups — has been ensnared in those groups' mistrusts.

Shiites are trying to stake out the political power they feel they deserve as Iraq's majority, Kurds want to solidify their autonomy in the oil-rich north and Sunnis hope to maintain a voice. They were dominant under Saddam Hussein.

Sunni Muslims fear what they see as a Shiite drive to dominate the new government. Shiites were harshly repressed under Saddam Hussein's regime and now see the chance to rule.

Othman said that Shiites on the council were using their connections with Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani (search), to press their demands, claiming that they have his support.

Those divisions have also complicated U.S. plans for selection of the government due to take power June 30. Shiite leaders and members of the council have rejected the U.S. plan, but no one has agreed on an alternative. That will likely require United Nations help.