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Iraq Expected to Approve Constitution Draft

Sunni negotiators said Sunday they expect the draft constitution drawn up by the Shiite and Kurdish blocs to be "rammed through" parliament despite their objections and last-ditch U.S. efforts to secure a compromise.

Sunni negotiator Sadoun Zubaydi (search) said he expected the National Assembly to rubber-stamp the proposal.

"They have told us it will be rammed through whether we like it or not," he said.

In a sign of the deepening crisis, five of the top Sunni Arabs in Iraq's (search) coalition government — including a deputy prime minister — spoke out late Saturday against the draft. They said they objected to 13 provisions in the document.

Although Cabinet members are not directly involved in the constitutional talks, the declaration indicated that Iraq's fragile government could fall apart if the draft proposal drawn up by the Shiite and Kurdish bloc is sent to the voters without the agreement of the Sunni negotiating team.

Sunnis account for only 20 percent of Iraq's 27 million people, but they are in a strong position to derail the constitution. If two-thirds of voters in any three provinces reject the charter in the referendum scheduled for Oct. 15, the constitution will be defeated, and Sunnis have the majority in at least four provinces.

After two months of talks, negotiators for the Shiite-Kurd bloc and the Sunnis remain divided over fundamental issues that include: whether Iraq should be turned into a federal state or decentralized by granting more power to provincial authorities; how the country's oil wealth will be divided; whether members of Saddam' Hussein's banned Baath Party should be purged; and whether Iraq will be considered an Arab or Islamic nation.

The deadlock in the talks came despite frantic efforts by the United States to secure a political consensus that would hopefully deliver a massive vote in favor of the charter — taking the steam out of the Sunni-led insurgency and enabling a drawdown of U.S. troops to start next year. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad met with various negotiators and parliament's speaker, Hajim al-Hassani, late Saturday trying to broker wording acceptable to the Sunnis.

"The demands from the Sunni Arabs continued until a very late hour," Jawad al Maliki, a Shiite member of the drafting committee, told state-run Iraqiya TV on Sunday. "They demanded that we do nothing unless we accept all their demands. So we insisted on refusing that."

On Saturday, after a flurry of final proposals and counterproposals for amending the document, the Shiite-Kurdish alliance said it would hand the draft on Sunday to the 275-seat National Assembly. The alliance enjoys an overwhelming majority in parliament due to the Sunni boycott of last elections last January.

Al-Hassani said Shiites and Kurds sought to address Sunni concerns by offering Friday to put off consideration of federalism's details until after a new parliament is elected in December, when Sunnis are expected to expand on the 17 seats they currently hold. Shiites and Kurds also acknowledged that many members of Saddam's party were not criminals and wouldn't be covered by a charter provision on purging Baathists from government and public life, he said.

Al-Hassani said he planned to convene the legislature Sunday, a workday here, but no hour was announced. It was not immediately clear whether lawmakers would vote on the alliance's proposal or simply refer it to voters for ratification in the referendum in October.

Sunni leaders said their people should oppose the charter peacefully by voting "no" in the referendum.

"The (Sunni) bloc should now convene a general conference to decide how to proceed," Zubaydi said. "Boycotting the referendum and parliamentary elections (in December) would be a lose-lose proposition. Our hope will be in the next parliament that will hopefully be more balanced than this one."