U.S., U.N. Urge Sunnis to OK Constitution

Under strong pressure from the United States, Iraqi leaders met Sunday in a last ditch bid to reach agreement on a new constitution only one day before the deadline for parliament to approve it. One lawmaker raised the possibility the deadline may have to be postponed.

Talks seem to be concentrating on the issues such as federalism and the role of Islam (search) in the state — issues which have for weeks blocked progress on the draft of the charter, which Washington considers a key part of the process to curb a Sunni-dominated insurgency.

A meeting was held Sunday morning between President Jalal Talabani (search), Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search) and parliament Speaker Hajim al-Hassani, Kurdish legislator Mahmoud Othman said.

He added that there is a planned session between Sunni politicians and Barzani at noon. In the evening, Kurdish and Shiite leaders will meet at the office of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search).

Al-Hassani's office issued a statement Sunday saying that meetings were still going on "to reach satisfactory solutions on all pending points in the draft constitution." The statement added that all leaders were "exerting all their efforts to solve the matters ... and no final agreement has been reached until this moment."

With little sign of progress, legislator Jawad al-Maliki, a member of al-Jaafari's Dawa Party, told The Associated Press on Sunday that "if we don't reach an agreement today. we might amend the interim constitution and extend the deadline by a minimum of two weeks."

The interim constitution states that amendments can be made only with the approval of three-fourths of the 275-member parliament and the unanimous approval of the president and his two deputies.

In ongoing violence, six U.S. soldiers died in roadside bombings and a shooting, the military said Sunday.

Three of the soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing late Friday near Tuz Khormato, 95 miles north of Baghdad, the military said. Another soldier was wounded in the blast and evacuated from the site.

One soldier on a patrol was killed Sunday and three others wounded in a blast east of Rutbah, 250 miles west of Baghdad, the military said. In another roadside bombing, one soldier was killed Saturday and another wounded in western Baghdad.

On Friday a U.S. commander said the number of roadside bomb attacks against American convoys in Iraq had doubled in the past year to about 30 per week. Dozens of bombings, usually detonated by remote control, target U.S. and Iraqi patrols each day.

The military said in a brief statement from Baghdad that one soldier was found dead Friday of a gunshot wound. The military said an investigation was under way.

In the capital, a senior Iraqi Central Bank official, Haseeb Kadum, was kidnapped Sunday outside his home, police 1st Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said. The beheaded body of an unidentified woman was found in the violent southern neighborhood of Dora, Mahmoud added.

On Saturday, Talabani predicted a draft constitution will be ready by Monday's deadline, and Othman said the draft would be presented to parliament with or without Sunni approval.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and U.N. envoy Ashraf Qazi met separately with Sunni leaders Saturday but failed to persuade them to accept a federal system.

"We will not be subdued and will continue to cling to our stance," Sunni negotiator Kamal Hamdoun said Saturday. "We don't accept federalism ... We don't want federalism. We are confident that federalism means division and federalism cannot be approved at this time."

In the northern cities of Irbil, Kirkuk, Dahok and Sulaimaniyah, hundreds of Kurds marched in the streets demanding that they be given the right of self-determination in the new constitution.

They also called for redefining the border of the Kurdish region and solving the problem of Kirkuk, where thousands of Kurds were deported and replaced by Arabs during Saddam Hussein's rule. Article 58 in the interim constitution, which remains in effect, gives them the right of return or compensation.

Waving Kurdish green, red, white and yellow flags, the demonstrators carried some banners reading: "In the new constitution, Kurds should be given the right of self determination."

Meanwhile in Baghdad, Shiite legislator Khaled al-Attiyah and Othman, the Kurdish parliamentarian, said a new agreement was reached on granting the Shiite religious leadership in Najaf a "guiding role" in recognition of its "high national and religious symbolism."

They said that Shiite holy shrines will be given a special status because of their "religious and cultural entity."

However, Sunni officials said they would not consider themselves bound by deals but between the Shiites and Kurds without Sunni concurrence.