Published October 13, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi lawmakers approved a set of last-minute amendments to the constitution without a vote on Wednesday, sealing a compromise designed to win Sunni support and boost chances for the charter's approval in a referendum just three days away.
The deal, brokered with intense U.S. mediation, came as terrorists pressed their campaign to wreck Saturday's referendum. A homicide bomber (search) killed 30 Iraqis at an army recruitment center in a northern town where another bomber had struck just a day earlier.
At least one major Sunni Arab party, the Iraqi Islamic Party (search), said it will now support the draft at the polls. But some other Sunni parties rejected the amendments and said they would still campaign for a "no" vote.
The most significant change is the introduction of a mechanism allowing Sunni Arabs to try to make more substantive changes in the constitution later, after a new parliament is elected in December.
Sunnis want to weaken the considerable autonomous powers the Shiite and Kurdish mini-states would have under the constitution. But there's no guarantee they will succeed: They will still likely face strong opposition from majority Shiites and Kurds in the new parliament.
The amendments passed Wednesday also made some key symbolic concessions to Sunni Arabs.
"We have the right to be proud in saying that today was a day of national consensus," President Jalal Talabani said after the compromise had been reached. "So congratulations to our people for their constitution."
The hour-long session, attended by 159 of parliament's 275 members — ended without the lawmakers voting on the amendments, but Parliament Speaker Hajim al-Hassani said no actual vote was necessary and that the compromise was approved.
The deal had already been accepted by the main parties in parliament after it was reached Tuesday night following three days of marathon negotiations, shepherded by U.S. officials. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad attended Wednesday's parliament session.
Washington welcomed the compromise as a positive step. "We believe the political process should be inclusive," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
But McClellan added that the Bush administration expected to see "continued violence because the terrorists understand how high the stakes are in Iraq."
Under one of the main changes introduced Wednesday, the upcoming parliament will form a committee that will have four months to recommend new amendments. These amendments must be all approved by parliament, but by a simple majority rather than a two-thirds majority that would normally be required. They would then go to a national referendum.
A day earlier, a homicide bomber killed 30 civilians and wounded 45 when he plowed his explosives-packed vehicle into a crowded outdoor market in Tal Afar. Al Qaeda in Iraq (search) claimed responsibility for that attack.
In August, U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted a major offensive in Tal Afar, 93 miles east of the Syrian border, claiming to have killed 200 insurgents and driven many others out.
Also Wednesday, the military announced that two U.S. soldiers died and one was injured when their vehicle rolled over while on patrol during combat near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad.
The crash brought to 1,962 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.