BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq’s president urged a spirit of compromise as political leaders gathered Sunday to try to resolve differences over a new constitution that is supposed to be approved by parliament in eight days.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader, made the appeal following a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who has stepped up pressure on the Iraqis to meet the Aug. 15 deadline — key to Washington’s strategy of drawing down troop strength in Iraq next year.
Talabani called for “consensus to solve all the problems related to drafting the new constitution and that this mission be done at its time.” Khalilzad urged Iraqis to “lay the foundation for a new Iraq” that will “serve as a democratic model for the region.”
Later, as political leaders assembled at his home, Talabani predicted no final agreement on the constitution’s text would be reached Sunday and said another session already was scheduled for Monday.
“We still have a week ahead, and when you multiply the number of hours in this week, you will see we have enough time,” he told reporters.
Khalilzad urges give-and-take
Before the meeting began, Khalilzad urged all sides to make compromises but said they could “feel that their essential needs are met.”
“The United States believes strongly that the Iraqi Constitution should provide equal rights before the law for all Iraqis regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sect,” he added in a statement.
Efforts to finish the constitution have accelerated against the backdrop of continuing violence as insurgents seek to derail a process that Washington hopes will in time calm the rebellion.
A suicide bomber driving an empty fuel tanker detonated his vehicle near a police station in central Iraq earlier in the day, killing at least two people, police said.
Three Iraqi soldiers and two Oil Ministry employees also were killed in two separate drive-by shootings in Baghdad, and the U.S. military announced the deaths of a Marine and two American soldiers in a roadside bombing in central Iraq.
In the south, about 1,000 protesters angry with the lack of clean water and electricity clashed Sunday with Iraqi police in Samawah, where Japanese troops are based. One person was killed and about 60 were injured, police said.
Violence in Tikrit, Samarra
The suicide bomber blew up his vehicle before reaching the back entrance to the Salahuddin provincial police station in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, said Lt. Col. Saad Ibrahim.
At least two police officers were killed, hospital official Qais Mohammed said. Thirteen people, including civilians, were injured and taken to a hospital.
A U.S. Marine was killed in a suicide car bombing in a village west of Baghdad, the military said Sunday.
The Marine, assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, was killed Saturday in Amiriyah, a few miles south of Fallujah, the statement said. Fallujah is 40 miles west of Baghdad.
The death brings to at least 30 the number of American service members to die in Iraq since the beginning of this month.
Earlier, the U.S. military said an American patrol with Task Force Liberty was hit Saturday evening in the city of Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. All the soldiers were taken to a coalition medical facility where two died from wounds, the military statement said.
At least 1,828 U.S. military personnel have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
In Baghdad, three Iraqi soldiers dressed in civilian clothing were gunned down Sunday while heading to work, said Dr. Muhannad Jawad of Yarmouk Hospital. A fourth soldier was injured in the morning attack, he said.
In other violence, gunmen shot into a vehicle carrying four Oil Ministry employees who worked at the Taji gas factory, killing two, police said. The other two were wounded in the attack on a highway on the outskirts of Baghdad.
The Bush administration hopes progress on the political front will help curb the insurgency by luring Sunni Arabs away from rebel ranks. Key to maintaining the momentum is a new constitution, which must be approved by parliament by Aug. 15 and by voters in a referendum two months later.
Working out snags
Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish political leaders were meeting privately Sunday to discuss the constitutional differences holding up the work of the 71-member drafting committee.
The snags include federalism, the role of Islam, a description of Iraq’s national identity and the distribution of national wealth.
On Saturday, Sunni Arab members of the committee rejected Kurdish demands to transform Iraq into a federal state, saying such a step should not be taken during foreign military occupation and an unstable security situation.
The Sunni delegates believe federalism should be discussed in the future when there is a parliament that represents all Iraqis, member Kamal Hamdan said. The interim 275-member National Assembly has only 17 Sunni Arab legislators — in large part because the disaffected minority largely boycotted the Jan. 30 election.
Most Kurds and some Shiites are for a federal system, but many Sunni Arabs oppose the idea, fearing it could lead to the breakup of Iraq.
Al-Qaida in Iraq issues warning
The country’s most feared terrorist group, Al-Qaida in Iraq, warned Sunni Arabs on Saturday that voting in the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum would be the same thing as rejecting Islam. The group has claimed responsibility for many deadly attacks, including suicide car bombings and kidnappings.
The group, led by Jordanian-born terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has claimed responsibility for many deadly attacks, including suicide car bombings and kidnappings.
Separately, a letter allegedly written to al-Zarqawi complained of a lack of leadership in al-Qaida’s operations in Mosul, according to excerpts provided by the U.S. military Saturday. The letter, written by a fighter calling himself Abu Zayd, was discovered by U.S. forces during a raid on an insurgent safehouse in the northern city on July 27, the U.S. command said.
© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.