BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi negotiators finished the country's new constitution Sunday without the endorsement of Sunni Arabs (search) who helped prepare it, dealing a blow to the Bush administration and setting the stage for a bitter campaign leading up to an October referendum.
The draft was submitted to Parliament, which adjourned without voting on it.
The 15 members of the Sunni panel said they rejected the document because of disagreements over such issues as federalism, Iraq's identity and references to Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Baath Party (search).
Sunni Arab negotiators also said in a joint statement that they had asked the United Nations (search) and Arab League to intervene.
The country's parliament speaker, Hajim al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab who was not on the negotiating panel, said he had "some reservations" about the draft — including "too much religion" and curbs on women's rights — and believed Shiites should have offered more concessions to the Sunnis.
Also, Sunni Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer did not attend a ceremony marking the end of the drafting process. Asked why al-Yawer was absent, President Jalal Talabani said "he's sick," eliciting laughter from officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, a Shiite.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who worked furiously to try to mediate a deal, said the constitution was "a good document," although he said he understood Sunni concerns.
The document, which included last-minute changes aimed at easing Sunni concerns, was read to lawmakers but was not put to a vote in the assembly, where the Shiite-Kurdish bloc has an overwhelming majority.
"The constitution is left to our people to approve or reject it," said Talabani, a Kurd. "I hope that our people will accept it despite some flaws."
Talabani acknowledged that the Sunni Arabs had objections to the draft "but everybody had reservations. This is part of democracy ... If the people do not approve it, we will draft another constitution."
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, said no constitution anywhere enjoyed universal acceptance, adding, "I personally have reservations on some points and so do the Kurds." But he urged Iraqis to support the draft in the referendum.
Technically, no vote was required by parliament. At one time, officials wanted a vote as an affirmation of unity between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, but that idea was shelved because of Sunni objections to the document and repeated delays in finalizing the draft.
Sheik Humam Hammoudi, chairman of the drafting committee, said the constitution "guarantees freedoms and equalizes between everyone, women and men and different ethnic groups and respects the ideologies of this nation and the religion of this society."
But the 15-member Sunni negotiating team immediately rejected the document as "illegitimate."
"We call upon the Arab League, the United Nations and international organizations to intervene so that this document is not passed and so that the clear defect in it is corrected," said the statement read by Abdul-Nasser al-Janabi.
A top Sunni negotiator, Saleh al-Mutlaq, told Alhurra Television that all opponents of the constitution will hold a conference to decide their next move. He gave no date.
"Now we will move to a general conference that includes all groups that did not take part in the (Jan. 30) elections to take a decision," he told the U.S.-funded station.
Al-Mutlaq said earlier the Sunni negotiators would not sign off on the final draft because of objections to provisions that allegedly threaten Iraqi unity — particularly federalism — and fail to affirm the country's Arab identity. The draft refers to Iraq as an Islamic — but not Arab — country as the Sunnis demanded.
"I think if this constitution passes as it is, it will worsen everything in the country," he said.
At the same time, al-Mutlaq urged all Iraqis to refrain from violence.
Another top Sunni negotiator, Mohammed Abed-Rabbou, said the Sunni team refused to endorse the draft because "points of disagreement" were not amended, including proposals to transform Iraq into a federated country and references to Saddam's party.
The comments set the stage for a bitter political battle before the October referendum, when Iraqis will decide whether to accept or reject the document. Five million copies of the constitution will be circulated nationwide in food allotments each Iraqi family receives monthly from the government.
Sunnis account for only 20 percent of Iraq's estimated 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, the constitution will be defeated. Sunnis have the majority in at least four provinces.
After two months of talks, negotiators for the Shiite-Kurd bloc and the Sunnis remained divided over such fundamental issues as:
— 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 Baath Party members should be purged from government; and
— Whether Iraq will be considered an Arab or Islamic nation.
The deadlock came despite frantic U.S. efforts to secure a political consensus that hopefully would deliver a massive vote for the charter — taking the steam out of the Sunni-led insurgency and enabling a withdrawal of U.S. troops to start next year.
Khalilzad met with various negotiators and al-Hassani late Saturday trying to broker wording acceptable to the Sunnis. Khalilzad told CNN's "Late Edition" that while the Sunnis did not get everything they wanted in the constitution, neither did the other blocs.
"None of the communities are 100 percent happy with the draft," he said. "A constitution is not a party platform. It's a common road map."
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," Sadoun 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."
In other developments:
— A homicide car bomber targeting a U.S. patrol in southeastern Mosul killed three civilians, police said.
— Iraqi police found nine bodies in Mosul's al Intisar neighborhood. Eight victims were civilians and the other a policeman, authorities said.
— The government's top Sunni cleric said 36 bodies found three days ago in a dry riverbed near the Iranian border were believed to be Sunni Arabs.
Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai, head of the government's Sunni Endowments, said the bodies "are believed to be for people from (Baghdad's northern neighborhood of) Hurriyah and they belong to the Sunni sect." The cleric did not give further details.
If true, the killings are likely to heighten sectarian tensions. Both Sunnis and Shiites have accused one another of involvement in "death squad" assassinations of members of the rival sect.
All the men were shot in the head, and some were handcuffed. The bodies were discovered near Badrah, southeast of Baghdad.
— In the southern city of Kut, authorities said they found the bodies of six people who were handcuffed, blindfolded and tortured.