BAGHDAD, Iraq – Mere minutes before a midnight deadline Monday, Iraqi parliament received a completed draft of the country's new constitution, though not everyone is happy with the current version of the document.
Minority Sunni Arabs still had reservations about the issue of federalism, which they fear could cut them out of most of the country's vast oil wealth.
But Shiites handed the constitution over before the midnight (4 p.m. EDT) deadline because they didn't want a second extension. The first deadline came and went last week without a finished version.
The points of contention would be worked out over the next three days, Iraqi parliament speaker Hajim al Hassani (search) said Monday.
"The Sunni brothers still have some reservations on federalism," Shiite negotiator Khaled al-Attiyah said, speaking to reporters about an hour before the deadline.
Sunni Arab negotiator Saleh al-Mutlaq said there was no agreement on a draft of the charter, and another Shiite negotiator, Mohammed Baqir al-Bahadli, said his group opposed extending the deadline.
"There is still no agreement and if they want to hand the draft today they will be violating the law," al-Mutlaq told The Associated Press as parliament gathered to receive the draft. "We are calling for accord and it is impossible to reach agreement in the next half an hour."
He added that points of disagreement include several issues such as federalism and ridding the Iraq government of members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party (search).
He said that if the draft is handed to the assembly, "we will tell the Iraqi people that this constitution is not suitable for the Iraqis and that they should register their names and vote against the constitution."
The Sunni minority could scuttle the constitution when voters decide whether to ratify it in the Oct. 15 referendum.
Thousands of Sunnis showed up in Fallujah on Sunday to register for that referendum. Under current rules, the constitution would be defeated if it is opposed by two-thirds of the voters in three of Iraq's 18 provinces. Sunni Arabs form the majority in at least four.
Another Shiite delegate said that the charter would be submitted to parliament even if the Sunnis didn't accept it.
Shiite leaders in Iraq have been saying Monday that key sticking points had been agreed on and the document would be ready on time, but Sunnis have been warning that any talk of a deal was premature.
Around 9:45 a.m. EDT, negotiators from ruling Shiite Islamist groups in Iraq's parliament told reporters that they had agreed on a draft of a constitution to propose to the National Assembly on Monday, six hours before a midnight deadline. A Sunni representative from the committee, however, told reporters that his party had not agreed to the draft.
The main obstacle appeared to be federalism, which the Sunni Arabs oppose.
"After a while, the final draft that was agreed upon with the Kurdish bloc and other blocs will be brought here so that a meeting of the National Assembly can be held," Shiite negotiator Jawad al-Maliki told reporters five hours before the midnight deadline. "This draft will be offered and read and be voted on" before the deadline.
"Thank God we have finished all the details related to the agreement," al-Maliki said. "There is still one point left and the meeting now is about it: it is the Sunni Arab brothers and their stance toward federalism."
Negotiators for all three communities — Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs — met in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone (search) for a new round of talks Monday. Shiite politician al-Attiyah said the political leaders "have tentatively agreed that the National Assembly would meet" Monday evening.
Sunni Arabs were still objecting to the agreement, especially provisions for transforming Iraq into a federal state.
Al-Mutlaq, one of the top Sunni Arab negotiators, told Al-Arabiya television that he was "surprised by these statements" from the Shiites.
"There are still major points of disagreement," al-Mutlaq said. "I don't think we will reach a solution for them in the next few hours. We are holding talks with the Kurdish brothers and the brothers in the (Shiite) alliance and we haven't reached unanimity so far. The meetings are now taking place, and they claim that an agreement has been reached."
"We will urge all Iraqis to reject the constitution if it is presented as it is being presented now," he added.
Jalaaldin al-Saghir, a Shiite negotiator, said the constitution "has a time limit that we do not want to breach."
"We had talks with our Sunni brothers [and] at the end some of the Arab Sunnis reached several conclusions," he said. "We cannot wait for all the time needed by those people to be convinced. We agree that the constitution, including federalism, be put before the people. If the Arab Sunnis do not want to vote in favor of federalism, then they can reject the constitution."
Sunnis Try To Stay in Process
Some Sunni members of the drafting panel on Sunday requested help from the United States and United Nations in order to meet the deadline.
Shiites and Kurds have enough seats in the Iraqi parliament to push the document through without Sunni Arab consent but Sunnis have warned that doing so would make things worse in Iraq. It's believed much of the insurgent activity is being carried out by Sunnis angered they weren't getting enough say in the new Iraqi government. The longer the insurgency continues to derail progress in Iraq, the longer U.S. troops likely will have to stay there.
"It's really to the United States' advantage to move this process along so we can have benchmarks to do what we all want to do — which is to begin withdrawing [troops] when that's appropriate," Duncan Deville, former legal adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority, told FOX News on Monday.
Other issues holding up agreement were believed to include women's rights, the distribution of Iraq's oil wealth, power sharing questions among the provinces and the role of the Shiite clerical hierarchy.
The initial Aug. 15 deadline was pushed back a week after no agreement was reached. Iraqi officials have insisted they would meet this second deadline. Parliament will either receive the draft of the new charter or vote on setting a new deadline. If it doesn't agree on either, the legislature will have to dissolve.
A Kurdish member of the drafting committee, Abdul-Khaleq Zangana, predicted "either an extension — and this is not good — or parliament dissolves — and this is difficult."
Shiite lawmaker Bahaa al-Araji accused the Kurds and secular allies of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search) of trying to "curb the political process" to bring down the government and force new elections.
"If an agreement is not reached, we will hand a draft and win slight majority in a vote and this is our right," al-Araji said.
Shiite lawmaker al-Bahadli also spoke of differences over the role of Islam, including Kurdish demands that laws be considered constitutional only if they agree with the interpretations of all Islamic sects.
Shiites want the right to apply their own interpretation to fellow Shiites.
"There is a tendency to postpone for a week or a month, and this is not in the interest of the [Shiite] alliance," al-Bahadli said. "But we can reach a solution today if the Americans put pressure."
Sunni Arab negotiators had complained of being sidelined in the final week of talks and that Shiites and Kurds were cutting deals excluding them. But if the Shiites and Kurds are citing major differences between them, then prospects for a breakthrough would appear even bleaker.
There are two options if political leaders fail to complete the draft: amend the interim constitution again and extend the deadline or dissolve parliament.
A Sunni backlash on the constitution could complicate the U.S. strategy of using the political process to lure members of the minority away from the Sunni-dominated insurgency. Washington hopes that a constitution, followed by general elections in December, will enable the United States and its international partners to begin removing troops next year.
"The American side is part of the whole process," Kurdish negotiator Mahmoud Othman said. "And they are concerned about the process — sometimes more than we."
In other developments:
— Two U.S. soldiers from Task Force Liberty were killed Monday by a roadside bomb during a combat patrol north of Baghdad, and two more soldiers died when their vehicle overturned during a military operation near Tal Afar.
— Much of the country lost electricity Monday due to an attack on a major power line between Beiji and Baghdad last week. The power shortage forced a halt in oil exports from southern Iraq because crude could not be pumped into tankers.
— Eight policemen and three civilians died Monday when their bus was ambushed near the Taramiyah police station, just north of Baghdad.
— Eight police commandos were killed in a car bomb explosion at a checkpoint in Baghdad.
— Four Iraqi policeman were killed when a suicide car bomb slammed into a police checkpoint in Baghdad.
— Police in Baghdad said they had found the bodies of six unidentified men in various parts of the capital. All were handcuffed, bound and shot in the head.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.