Iraq constitution's final draft is OK'd

Legislators mourn assassinated colleague

September 19, 2005|By Ashraf Khalil

BAGHDAD, IRAQ -- Iraq's transitional National Assembly approved the final draft of the new constitution yesterday while mourning the death of an assassinated legislator.

A flower-ringed portrait was placed in the seat of Faris Nasir Hussein, whose car was ambushed by gunmen Saturday night north of Baghdad. Hussein, a member of Iraq's Shabak ethnic minority who was elected to parliament on the Kurdish ticket, was on his way from his home in Mosul to attend yesterday's assembly session when he was attacked. Three of his bodyguards died in the assault, and fellow parliamentarian Haidar Qasim was wounded.

Hussein's death continued a wave of resurgent rebel violence that has killed more than 270 people in the past week. Yesterday, police discovered the corpses of 20 men in the Tigris River near Balad, 40 miles north of the capital.

Authorities said the men, dressed in civilian clothes, appeared to have been killed and dumped in the river two to three days earlier. Balad, a Shiite farming town near a large U.S. air base, is surrounded by Sunni Arab villages.

A U.S. soldier died Saturday when his patrol struck a roadside bomb near the western city of Al Asad, the military said.

In Baghdad yesterday, the National Assembly held a brief memorial for Hussein before a formal reading of the final changes in the draft constitution. He was the third assembly member killed since the legislature convened in April.

"All members of the assembly and all government ministers are under threat. ... We think about it every minute," said legislator Hunayn Qaddo.

Yesterday's submission of the draft constitution to U.N. officials for printing takes the document out of the hands of negotiators. Millions of copies will be printed ahead of an Oct. 15 referendum in which Iraqis will vote yes or no on the document.

With the referendum less than a month away, the assembly largely becomes a lame-duck body; preparing the constitution was its primary mission and it will dissolve within months regardless of whether the document passes. Either ratification or rejection will lead to new elections before year's end.

In other news yesterday, members of the Mahdi Army militia blockaded streets in Basra, protesting the arrest of two of their leaders by British forces who patrol the southern city.

The militia - loyal to Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, an outspoken foe of the U.S. occupation - staged violent uprisings in Baghdad, Najaf and Basra last summer, ending with a cease-fire brokered by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric.

Ashraf Khalil writes for the Los Angeles Times. Borzou Daragahi, Shamil Aziz and Othman Ghanim in Basra contributed to this article.

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