Changes weighed for Iraqi charter

Shiites, Kurds cold to Sunni compromises


BAGHDAD, IRAQ -- A small glimmer of hope emerged yesterday that Iraq's disgruntled Sunnis might yet be persuaded to reverse their opposition to Iraq's proposed constitution and vote yes in Saturday's referendum, thus averting a potentially irreversible sectarian rift over the charter that will shape Iraq's future.

After a day of meetings between Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders mediated by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, three amendments to the draft were proposed that some Sunni leaders said would enable them to support the constitution.

"We reject the document as it is now, but if these modifications are made, we will vote yes, and we will call on all Iraqis to vote yes," said Alaa Mekki, a spokesman for the Islamic Party, one of the biggest Sunni parties that has led the campaign for a "no vote" in the Sunni community.

As Iraq heads toward the referendum, fears are mounting that the document in its current form will serve to further divide the country, widening the rift between the Sunnis who oppose it and the Shiites and Kurds who support it.

In a sign of the tensions building before the referendum, at least 12 people were killed in bombings around Baghdad, including a U.S. soldier who died in a suicide attack against the fortified Green Zone where U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government officials live.

Later in the day, six policemen were injured when a convoy of Arab League officials on a mission to try to mediate between the factions was ambushed by gunmen as they drove through the streets of Baghdad.

Their mission coincides with growing alarm among Iraq's Arab neighbors that the referendum risks deepening the already widespread violence in Iraq, and on the eve of the visit the Arab League's secretary general, Amr Moussa, warned of a "civil war that could erupt at any moment."

Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy, has been pressing all sides to make compromises that would enable Sunnis to support the constitution. These 11th-hour negotiations are seen as a last-ditch effort to unite Iraqis around the political process.

But Shiite and Kurdish legislators said they opposed changing the document, and the prospects of a compromise appeared remote.

One of the amendments would permit the next National Assembly, to be elected in December, to make changes to the constitution later, something that would give Sunnis the chance to modify clauses they don't like, Mekki said. The current draft forbids amendments to the most controversial sections for the next eight years.

Sunnis were largely shut out of the current National Assembly, which drafted the document, because of their boycott of January's elections. They have complained that their demands were sidelined by the Shiite and Kurdish legislators who dominated the assembly.

Liz Sly writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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