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Insurgents Hit Baghdad; Doubt Voiced on Charter
Drafters May Miss Monday Deadline

By Jonathan Finer and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 10, 2005

BAGHDAD, Aug. 9 -- Insurgents mounted deadly attacks on police and U.S. soldiers here Tuesday, as politicians with an Aug. 15 deadline to draft a constitution resumed deliberations. Some officials expressed diminished confidence that the document would be completed on time.

A suicide car bomber attacked a convoy of U.S. Army Humvees across the Tigris River from Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, killing one soldier and wounding two others. At least 12 Iraqis were killed in the afternoon blast, and the dead and wounded were stacked on wooden pushcarts to be taken to a nearby hospital.

"They kill 40 Iraqis to get one American. I am wondering, is there anyone who will be able to stop this and make us live like we used to live before?" said Hussein Saidi, 23, who sells grapes along the road. "Many of my friends were killed. God saved me. I do not know how."

Police officers were targeted in several attacks across the capital, including two who were killed in a drive-by shooting in the Zayona neighborhood of east Baghdad. At least 10 policemen were killed citywide Tuesday, according to Reuters and the Associated Press.

On Monday, a Marine was killed by small arms fire in Ramadi in western Iraq, where U.S. forces have suffered heavy casualties in recent days, the military said in a statement.

A U.S. general said Tuesday that the violence, which has killed 33 U.S. service members this month, would likely escalate as the deadline approached for drafting the constitution.

"If you look at the past few months, insurgents have not been able to sustain attacks, but they tend to surge every four weeks or so. We are right in the middle of one of those periods and predicted this would come," said Army Brig. Gen. Karl Horst, the deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, which oversees Baghdad. "If they are going to influence the constitution process, they have only a few days left to do it, and we fully expect the attacks to continue."

That process resumed Tuesday after a blinding sandstorm forced officials to cancel Monday's scheduled negotiating sessions.

To a greater degree than usual, both U.S. and Iraqi officials emphasized the challenge posed by the deadline. Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari told the Associated Press that he hoped the deadline would be met but said that "if some matters block us and need time, then it might take a little time."

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad also seemed to leave open the possibility that the draft might come late. "I think that at this point the determination is to meet the deadline, but of course the weather has delayed things," he said.

Under the terms of the country's interim constitution, Iraqi officials had until Aug. 1 to request a six-month extension for completing a draft constitution, which must be presented to the National Assembly for approval. They declined to ask for the delay. Finishing the constitution on time is the first step toward a nationwide referendum on its adoption in October and a new round of legislative elections in December.

Members of the constitution committee gathered Tuesday evening at the Baghdad home of President Jalal Talabani.

They were joined later by leaders of political blocs outside Iraq's legislature, including Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq, who was prevented by weather from traveling to Baghdad over the past two days.

Barzani's presence is considered pivotal to resolving some of the thorniest constitutional issues. He is expected to push for broad autonomy for the Kurdish north and for the return of ethnic Kurds to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Iraq's Sunni Arabs, while not opposed to limited autonomy for the Kurdish region, fear that the Kurds consider it a step toward independence and that the country could break apart if the principle of federalism is extended to Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq. They are against adjusting the demographics of Kirkuk, where many Sunnis were relocated under the former government of Saddam Hussein.

In a brief statement to reporters as meetings got underway, Talabani's spokesman, Kamran Qaradaghi, said politicians would spend the evening discussing how much power to allow regional governments such as Kurdistan's, how to distribute the country's oil wealth, and what electoral system should be used to choose future governments.

"They are committed to the deadline of August 15," he said of the committee members.

After the meeting, Salih Mutlak, a Sunni Arab participant, said that the group had agreed in principle that the central government would control Iraq's oil resources but that the question of federalism was left unresolved.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have long maintained that political progress would undermine the country's violent insurgency. Fighting continued Tuesday in and around the northwestern city of Haditha, where U.S. Marines and Iraqi soldiers are in the fourth day of an offensive along the Euphrates River. U.S. jets destroyed a pair of safe houses, killing at least seven insurgents, according to an Iraqi army captain who spoke on condition he not be named.

The insurgent group led by Abu Musab Zarqawi posted a statement on the walls of several mosques in the city of Rawah, northwest of Haditha, that said the rebels would engage the United States in a "war of attrition."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company