Iraqi Politicians Seek Constitutional Reform Amid Violence

Iraq's feuding ethnic and sectarian groups moved ahead Monday with forming a committee to consider amending the constitution after their leaders agreed to delay any division of the country into autonomous states until 2008.

As legislators formed a 27-member committee to begin talking about amending Iraq's constitution, official observances of Ramadan were punctuated with violence around the country.

Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political leaders in parliament formed the constitutional committee, which will take about a year to review any changes and get them approved — first by parliament and then by referendum.

CountryWatch: Iraq

A separate Shiite-sponsored federalism bill will be read to the legislature Tuesday and then debated for two days before parliament breaks for the Iraqi weekend. The legislation would be read again, with any changes made by legislators, Oct. 1.

A vote would come four days after the second reading, with the bill needing a simple majority for passage. If approved, it would be implemented 18 months later — in 2008 — according to the deal made by the parties.

The deal was a victory for Sunni Arabs, who had been fighting the federalism bill proposed by Shiite cleric Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the United Iraqi Alliance. They fear that if not amended, it will splinter the country and deny them a share of Iraq's oil, which is found in the predominantly Kurdish north and the heavily Shiite south.

But they agreed to break a two-week deadlock after all parties accepted a Sunni demand that the parliamentary committee be set up discuss amending the constitution.

Sunni Arabs hope to win an amendment that would make it more difficult to establish autonomous regions.

Although the deal was struck and endorsed by Adnan al-Dulaimi's Sunni Arab Accordance Front, which has 44 seats in the 275-member parliament, it was rejected by the hard-liners.

"We reject any attempt to promote the regions legislation or federalism because it will pave the way for the partitioning of Iraq," Hamid al-Mutlaq, a senior official in the Sunni Arab National Dialogue Front, told The Associated Press.

He added that his bloc, which has 11 seats in parliament and is run by Saleh al-Mutlaq, was distressed that other groups such as the Accordance Front either helped strike the deal or supported it.

"The groups, especially the Iraqi Accordance Front, that helped pass this legislation and ignored the will of the Iraqi people bear a historical responsibility regarding this issue," he said.

Although federalism is enshrined in the constitution approved by Iraqis in a referendum a year ago, the right to seek amendments to the charter was a key demand made by Sunni Arabs when they agreed to join Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's national unity government in the spring.

The deal opened the way for Iraq's communities to move ahead politically and solve an impasse that threatened to worsen relations among them. If left unresolved, the deadlock could have further shaken Iraq's fragile democracy and led to more sectarian violence.

The depth of enmity between Shiites and Sunni Arabs was evident in their disagreement over the day the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was to begin.

Sunni Arabs began observing the month of daytime fasting Saturday, while Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, declared the start to be Monday. The Shiite-led government followed al-Sistani's lead.

Visit's Iraq center for more in-depth coverage.

The observances started with violent attacks around Iraq, including an assault on a police station and the discovery of more apparent victims of sectarian death squads in the capital.

One policeman was killed and six wounded when their station in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of Baghdad came under heavy attack, police said.

Six cars drove up to the building and opened fire with machine guns, then began firing mortars, police Capt. Salah al-Maamouri said. The unidentified attackers then fled when American troops arrived.

In southeastern Baghdad at around the same time, police found the bodies of two men in their 30s. They had been shot several times in the head, and their hands and legs were bound, police Lt. Bilal Ali Majeed said.

In the capital's eastern Wahda neighborhood, three policemen were wounded in a bomb attack. A bomb planted under a civilian car exploded, setting it alight, then when police moved in to investigate, a second bomb exploded, causing the injuries, Majeed said.

About 70 miles west of Baghdad in Ramadi, a suicide bomber drove a car into a police checkpoint. Seven policemen were killed and seven others injured, police and hospital officials said.

Iraq has seen increased violence during Ramadan in the past, and Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition, warned last week it was anticipated that Iraq's already severe sectarian violence would escalate during the holy month once again.

But a Basra police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said it was the same man, adding al-Farouq was known to be an expert in bomb- making. The officer said al-Farouq was going by the name Mahmoud Ahmed while living in Basra, adding that he entered Iraq three months ago.

Earlier, Basra police Lt. Col. Kareem al-Zubaidi identified the man killed as Mahmoud Ahmed, saying he returned two weeks ago after reportedly fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. There was no explanation for the differing accounts on the date of his arrival.

On Sunday night, assailants in four cars pulled up outside the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Baghdad and fired a rocket-propelled grenade at it, police Lt. Maithem Abdel Razzaq said. The round hit an external concrete block and caused no injuries.

Later in the evening, a roadside bomb in Baghdad's Dora neighborhood exploded next to a civilian car, killing two people and injuring three others, Razzaq said.

In the city of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, gunmen on Sunday night broke into the home of city council head Najim Abdulla Suod, killing him and his 23-year-old son, police Lt. Amer Ahmed said.