BAGHDAD, Iraq – Bombs killed two British contractors in southern Iraq and seven people in the heart of the capital Saturday, as framers of the new constitution were pessimistic they could meet an August deadline for parliament to approve a draft.
The United States hopes that a new Iraqi constitution will help calm the insurgency by encouraging the country's disaffected Sunni Arab (search) community to abandon the conflict and join the political process.
But the violence continued, with the two Britons, who worked for the security firm Control Risks Group (search), killed when a roadside bomb exploded alongside a British consulate convoy in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.
Two Iraqi children were wounded when a second device exploded five minutes later, police Capt. Mushtaq Kadim (search) said.
Britain has some 8,500 troops in Iraq, mostly in the south. Its military headquarters is based in Basra, where Britain also has a consulate general's office.
The bombing follows the kidnap-slayings of three Muslim diplomats — two from Algeria and one from Egypt — and the attempted kidnappings of a Pakistani and a Bahraini envoy this month. Those attacks were claimed by Al Qaeda (search) in Iraq, which is not believed active in heavily Shiite Basra.
In Baghdad, a car bomb exploded near the National Theater in the city's Karradah district, killing seven people, including three policemen, police and witnesses said. Elsewhere in the city, a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. convoy, hurling a Humvee off the highway.
In Ramadi, a suicide bomber attacked an American patrol, Iraqi police said.
No U.S. casualties were reported in either attack.
A committee with Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni representatives is working to finish the document in time for parliamentary approval by Aug. 15. If Parliament fails to meet that deadline, it can request a six-month extension. If the deadline is met, voters will decide whether to ratify the charter in an October referendum.
The document's toughest issues, including federalism, the role of Islam and even the country's name remain in dispute. Some committee members said Saturday the issues are unlikely to be resolved before the August deadline.
A major hurdle is the role of Islam. Shiites, who comprise about 60 percent of Iraq's estimated 27 million people, want Islam to be the main source of legislation. Kurds want it to be one of the sources — as it is in the interim constitution approved before the Americans restored Iraqi sovereignty in June 2004.
"The Americans and the British are demanding that the constitution be done on time and we are asking the Americans and British to put pressure on the Kurds," said Jawad al-Maliki, a member of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's Dawa party.
Sunni Arabs also are reluctant to accept Kurdish demands for a federal state, fearing that will lead to the breakup of Iraq and deprive them of Iraq's oil riches in heavily Shiite and Kurdish areas.
Those differences have sharpened in recent months because of Sunni allegations of discrimination and abuse since the new government was announced April 28.
Sheik Khalaf Elaayan, head of the National Dialogue Council, said he escaped assassination Saturday when gunmen wearing military uniforms fired on his car in south Baghdad.
Elaayan's bodyguard was wounded in the attack, which took place near an Iraqi army checkpoint, he said. The National Dialogue Council is a Sunni political group with members on the constitutional drafting committee.
"I was surprised that the soldiers did not react or come to help us although the checkpoint was less than 100 yards from where the attack took place," Elaayan said.
The attack against the sheik followed the government's decision to fire a top Sunni Arab official who has urged fellow Sunnis to join Iraq's political process. Sunni Arabs form about 20 percent of the population but are the core of the insurgency.
Adnan al-Dulaimi was dismissed July 24 as head of the Sunni Endowment, the government agency in charge of the upkeep of Sunni mosques and shrines, al-Jaafari's office said. Al-Dulaimi said he was fired for defending Sunnis.
"I think that the reason behind my dismissal is that they want to silence a voice that is speaking against unjustified practices against Sunnis such as arrests, torture in the prisons," al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, a Sunni woman who was fired from the Iraqi Ministry of Health was kidnapped in Baghdad, police said. Iman al-Dabbagh had served as director general of the engineering projects department until her dismissal. Colleagues said she was fired because she was a Sunni.
Dozens of bodies — blindfolded, bound and shot — have been discovered around Baghdad and central Iraq, many of them Sunnis.
Most members of the Sunni Arab community stayed home during the country's Jan. 30 elections, and Shiites and Kurds won control of the new government.
Also Saturday, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi official who heads a committee to determine which areas could be transferred from multinational control, listed seven Shiite and Kurdish cities that would be among the first to transfer from multinational to Iraqi control.
"There are some stable cities that we can ask the Multinational Forces for to leave, such as Najaf, Karbala, Samawah, Diwaniyah and maybe Nasiriyah, Sulaimaniyah and Irbil," al-Rubaie said, without giving a timetable.