Parliament approves compromise deal on constitution

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    By THOMAS WAGNER

    Associated Press Writer

    BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – The speaker of Iraq’s parliament said Wednesday that lawmakers had approved a last-minute compromise on the draft constitution aimed at gaining Sunni support just days before a nationwide referendum on the charter.

    In ongoing violence aimed at thwarting approval of the document, a suicide bomber killed 30 Iraqis at an army recruiting center in a northwestern town.

    The lawmakers gathered for about an hour at a special session of the National Assembly to hear a set of amendments to the constitution that are at the heart of the compromise, which was reached Tuesday night.

    The session, attended by 157 of the body’s 275 members, ended without a vote on the measure. Parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani said a vote was not necessary and that the amendments were approved.

    “Today with the presence of the National Assembly members, it is considered to be adopted,” al-Hassani told The Associated Press. The deal had already been accepted by the main parties in parliament.

    Earlier in the day, Iraq’s president, prime minister and other leaders praised the compromise, reached after marathon talks among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish negotiators that were shepherded by U.S. officials.

    The deal was meant to address the concerns of Sunnis, who until now have been campaigning to defeat the charter in Saturday’s referendum. The breakthrough compromise greatly increase the likelihood that voters will approve it.

    “The new amendments on the draft open wide horizons and give everyone another chance to have a proportional role to participate in the political process to build the new Iraqi government,” al-Hassani said earlier. “The political process in Iraq, in spite of all its many complications, is going forward.”

    The draft constitution already has been printed by the United Nations and millions of copies are being distributed to voters. Any new additions probably would have to be announced in the media.

    The two sides agreed on a mechanism to consider amending the constitution after it is approved in the nationwide vote. The next parliament, to be formed after Dec. 15 elections, will set up a commission within four months to consider amendments.

    The amendments later would have to be approved by the entire parliament and submitted to another referendum two months later.

    Sunnis hope to have a larger representation in the next parliament and want to try to water down the autonomous powers that Shiite and Kurdish regions will hold under the constitution’s federal system.

    The current additions give no guarantee that the Sunnis will be able to push through the changes in the future.

    Washington welcomed the compromise as a positive step but cautioned that it would likely do little to quell insurgent violence.

    “We have always emphasized the importance of encouraging as broad a participation in the political process as possible. We believe the political process should be inclusive,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

    McClellan added that the Bush administration expected to see “continued violence because the terrorists understand how high the stakes are in Iraq.”

    Sunnis had feared that the constitution would fragment Iraq because it allows Shiites and Kurds to create mini-states in the oil-rich north and south, leaving Sunnis in a poor central zone.

    Sunni-led insurgents have been wreaking violence in a bid to wreck the referendum and scare voters away from the polls. At least 433 people have been killed in militant violence in the last 17 days.

    On Wednesday, for the second day in a row, a suicide attacker hit the northwestern town of Tal Afar.

    The bomber set off explosives hidden beneath his clothing at the first of two checkpoints outside the recruiting center in Tal Afar, where men were gathering to apply for jobs, said army Capt. Raad Ahmed and town police chief Brig. Najim Abdullah. They said at least 30 people were killed and 35 wounded.

    The small town was struck Tuesday by another suicide bomber who killed 30 civilians and wounded 45 when he plowed his explosives-packed vehicle into a crowded outdoor market. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for that attack.

    In August, U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted a major offensive in Tal Afar, 93 miles east of the Syrian border, claiming to have killed 200 insurgents and driven many others out.

    In other violence Wednesday, three suicide car bombs, two roadside blasts and two drive-by shootings killed three Iraqis and wounded 28 in Baghdad and the northwestern city of Baqouba, police said.

    Two U.S. soldiers were killed and one was injured when their vehicle rolled over while on patrol during combat near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, the military said. The deaths brought to 1,962 the number of U.S. service members killed since the beginning of the war in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

    The bodies of eight Iraqis who apparently had been kidnapped were found Wednesday in Baghdad and Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of the capital, police said.

    The insurgents have been demanding Sunni Arabs boycott the referendum. Moderate Sunni politicians have been urging their followers to vote against the constitution _ raising the possibility that a document strongly backed by the majority Shiites and Iraq’s Kurds could be defeated.

    The United States has been eager to see the constitution pass to avoid drawing out Iraq’s political instability for months longer, setting back the U.S. military’s hopes to start pulling out troops next year.

    After Tuesday night’s deal, one Sunni party _ the Iraqi Islamic Party _ said it would now call on its supporters to vote “yes” in the referendum.

    However, 19 small Sunni-led parties, including the National Dialogue Council, criticized the compromise and said their “no” vote stood.

    “There is no excuse for Arab Sunnis to boycott the vote now that we have responded to all their demands and suggestions,” President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said Wednesday at a nationally televised news conference.

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