High-level talks start on Iraq constitution

2 U.S. soldiers, 1 Marine killed

anti-government unrest erupts in normally quiet town in south

August 08, 2005|By Liz Sly | Liz Sly,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's top leaders gathered yesterday at the heavily guarded villa of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani for the first of a series of high-level meetings aimed at breaking the deadlock holding up agreement on a new constitution.

As the meeting got under way, the U.S. military announced the deaths of three more of its service members in bomb attacks Saturday: two soldiers killed by a roadside bomb in Samarra and a Marine killed in a suicide bombing in the western province of Anbar.

The deaths brought to 30 the number of Americans killed this month in what is turning into one of the bloodiest periods for the military since the March 2003 invasion.

There was also an eruption of anti-government unrest in the normally quiet southern town of Samawah, underscoring the urgency of moving ahead with the political process.

Protester killed

Police killed at least one protester and wounded several, local TV reports from Samawah said, after about 1,000 demonstrators hurled stones at the provincial government building and set a police car on fire to protest the local government's failure to deliver basic services.

The unrest in Samawah, whose majority Shiite population voted overwhelmingly for the government in January, coincides with frustrations among many Iraqis over the failure of their new government to deliver promised improvements in living standards.

Hopes for compromise

With eight days left before the Aug. 15 deadline for completing the constitution, U.S. officials were hoping that bringing together leaders of the main factions will spur compromise on issues that are required if the document is to be finished on time.

After greeting the leaders, who arrived at his home in a parade of armored vehicles, Talabani told reporters that he was confident there is time to reach agreement.

"Eight days is not a little time. Multiply that by 24 hours a day and you will see that ... it's enough to reach agreement," he said.

Two days have been lost; the meeting was set for Friday but was delayed to enable the head of the Kurdish regional government, Massoud Barzani, to attend.

Crucial presence

Barzani's presence is considered crucial because, as president of the virtually autonomous region of Kurdistan, his assent will be essential if any compromises are to be made that affect the Kurdish region.

The constitution would be nullified in the referendum in October if it is rejected by a majority of voters overall, or by two-thirds of voters in any three provinces.

It is likely that three provinces constituting the Kurdish region would vote down any document that doesn't ensure their autonomy, Kurdish officials say.

The question of regional autonomy and the extent to which Iraq will be a federal state is the sticking point holding up an agreement among the Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni factions negotiating the document, with the Kurds insisting on strong guarantees that their autonomy will be preserved.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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