Iraqi insurgent hideouts destroyed

40 militants, civilians believed dead near Syrian border in 3 U.S. airstrikes

August 31, 2005|By Alex Rodriguez | Alex Rodriguez,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. airstrikes near the Syrian border in western Iraq destroyed three insurgent safe houses and killed several suspected militants yesterday, the U.S. military said. Arab media reported that as many as 40 people died.

The strikes took place in western Anbar province, a stronghold for insurgents who use the Euphrates River valley as a conduit for arms and fighters. Arabic television, quoting local hospital officials, said some of the dead were women and children.

U.S. military officials said they had no information about civilian casualties.

F-16 fighter jets dropped 500-pound precision-guided bombs onto three suspected insurgent hideouts, the military said. The first strike destroyed a house believed to be occupied by insurgents in Husaybah. A strike on a second house there killed one militant, prompting others to flee to a safe house in Karabilah. A third airstrike was directed at suspected insurgents in the Karabilah house.

In the same region, fighting broke out between pro-government and pro-insurgent tribes, the Associated Press reported.

The death tolls associated with the violence yesterday were unclear. AP reported that 45 people in all were killed.

The early morning attacks came as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said Iraqis can still make changes to their draft constitution to appease its opponents, remarks that reflected Washington's concerns that Sunni Arabs might mobilize to block the draft's ratification in October.

Only two days ago, Shiite and Kurdish negotiators were hailing the completion of the draft after weeks of heated negotiations with Sunni Arabs, who ultimately refused to endorse the document. Sunni backing has been seen as crucial to efforts to defeat the Sunni-led insurgency.

After members of the country's constitution committee signed the draft Sunday, Shiite and Kurdish leaders stressed that no further changes would be made. Moreover, Iraq's interim constitution prohibits any further amendments to the draft once it has been submitted to the country's transitional National Assembly.

However, speaking at a news conference, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said "edits" to the charter still could be made, adding that the "final, final draft" of the constitution has yet to be presented.

"With regards to the constitution, as I said before, if Iraqis - among themselves, in the assembly and those from outside - decide to make some adjustments compared to the draft that was presented three, four days ago, it's entirely up to them," Khalilzad said.

The ambassador's remarks appeared to take Shiite negotiators by surprise.

"We're still discussing this and we don't have a final word," said Ali Dabbagh, a leading Shiite negotiator.

Shiites, about 60 percent of Iraq's population, are gearing up for an extensive media blitz to ensure the constitution's ratification in an Oct. 15 referendum. Voter registration ends tomorrow, though registration has been extended for the Sunni-majority Anbar province until Sept. 7.

The draft constitution can be defeated if a majority of Iraqi voters reject it, or if a two-thirds majority in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces votes against it. Sunni Arabs do not have a two-thirds majority in three provinces, but combined with followers of constitution opponent Muqtada al-Sadr, a maverick Shiite cleric, they might gather enough support to defeat the charter.

The constitution's defeat would be a serious setback for the United States and Shiite majority government, forcing the election of a new transitional parliament and a new start of drafting the constitution.

Appearing alongside Khalilzad at the news conference yesterday was Adnan al-Dulaimi, a top Sunni political leader, who denounced the constitution in its current form and urged Sunnis to reject it.

While al-Dulaimi joined other top Sunni leaders who have come out against the constitution, Iraq's largest Sunni political bloc, the Iraqi Islamic Party, has yet to commit itself, saying it might consider backing the draft if changes are made to it.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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