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Bush Hails Iraqi Draft Constitution

Sunni support was also seen by the White House as crucial to taking the steam out of the violent Sunni-led insurgency and thus allowing a drawdown of U.S. forces there. The United States worked furiously to gain Sunni backing _ even engineering Sunni presence on the constitution-writing panel and putting Bush on the phone earlier in the week _ to no avail.

"That is the real test, whether they will vote for it in large numbers or not," Khalilzad said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "If the Sunnis do vote for it and approve the constitution, the constitution is not stopped, then it will be a national compact and it will help with the counterinsurgency strategy and with the development of a joint road map for the future of Iraq. And if they don't, then it will be a problem. "

Nembers of the Shabak community, an ethnic minority in the Mosul area, rally in Burtilla, east of Mosul, against the constitution draft.
Nembers of the Shabak community, an ethnic minority in the Mosul area, rally in Burtilla, east of Mosul, against the constitution draft. (Mohammed Ibrahim - AP)

The Bush administration had been quiet for several days through repeated delays in the drafting process. But Sunday, when the document was finally deemed complete and Sunni negotiators declared the final product "illegitimate," the administration pulled out all the stops to put the best face on the developments.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spent part of Saturday night talking by phone with lawmakers preparing to appear on the Sunday morning talk shows. The U.S. ambassador appeared on two of them to put forward the administration message and the White House hurriedly arranged a Bush appearance at his ranch.

In addition to Sunni objections over issues such as federalism, Iraq's identity and references to Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Baath Party, some Sunnis have expressed concerns that the draft could lead to Iraq's domination by Shiite Islamic clerics tied to Iran and that it curb's women's rights.

Sensitive to disaffection for the United States in many Sunni areas, administration officials quietly talked up the document as one that Sunnis should support and stressed that the process is one Iraqis themselves control. Emphasizing the document's similarity to the constitution approved in Afghanistan, officials stressed provisions that ban discrimination based on gender and call for 25 percent of the national assembly to be women.

"Of course, there's disagreement," Bush said. "We're watching a political process unfold, a process that has encouraged debate and compromise _ a constitution that was written in a society in which people recognize that there had to be give and take."

The president predicted an increase in insurgent attacks that will be "more desperate, more despicable and more vicious" leading up to the October vote.

"We are determined to see the Iraqis fully secure their democratic gains," Bush told reporters. "We have hard work ahead of us."

As he spoke, anti-war activists who have been camped down the road for most of the month held a large demonstration. The Rev. Al Sharpton was the featured speaker as demonstrators remembered soldiers killed in the war and called upon the president to bring troops home.

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© 2005 The Associated Press