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IRAQ - Oct 10 - Baghdad Talks Aimed At Settling Draft.

With only five days to go before Iraq's constitutional referendum, politicians hold talks to try to avoid a confrontation that may inflame sectarian tensions by pitting the Shiite and Kurdish leaders who drafted the document against Sunni Arabs who oppose it. According to sources close to the talks, reportedly sponsored by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, delegates suggested mainly minor changes to the constitutional language that would emphasise Iraq's Arab identity a key Sunni Arab demand, but one that many Kurds resist. However, it was unclear whether the talks addressed the Sunnis' biggest grievance a federal system they claim will divide and weaken the country. Also, with millions of printed copies of the draft already distributed to Iraqi voters, some sources said that more significant changes, even if agreed, would be difficult to implement a dilemma typical of a constitutional process marked so far by procedural confusion, lack of transparency and last-minute backroom negotiations. The US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who has repeatedly tried in recent months to bring rival Iraqi factions together, has reportedly been involved in the talks. Meanwhile, the Sunnis are themselves divided on how to deal with the constitution, with their most influential organisations generally agreeing that the draft is unacceptable, but disagreeing over whether to aim for a defeat of the draft at the ballot box or to boycott the process altogether. On Oct 8 Sunni Arab groups met in a Baghdad mosque to discuss the document, but did not issue any joint call to voters either for a "no" vote or for a boycott. The Iraqi government has strongly urged Sunnis to vote, even if they cast their ballots against the draft. Many influential Sunni movements boycotted parliamentary elections in January, a decision that many Sunni Arab politicians said was a mistake contributing to Sunni underrepresentation in parliament. Nonetheless, many Sunnis are reluctant to participate in a process they say has been used by an overwhelming Shiite and Kurdish parliamentary majority to ram home a federal constitution which they claim ignores their concerns. The possibility of at least a partial boycott makes it increasingly unlikely that Sunni Arab rejectionists will be able to achieve what they need to block the draft, a two-thirds majority in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces. Although Sunnis are thought to be a majority in four, they are much less organised than the main Shiite and Kurdish parties. Meanwhile, insurgents kept up attacks across the country, killing at least 12 Iraqis and a US soldier. The Iraqi interior ministry has announced a wide range of measures, including a partial ban on traffic, to thwart such attacks on election day, but violence is still expected to depress voter turnout in Sunni areas.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Oct 16, 2005
Previous Article:IRAN - Oct 9 - Treatment Worse Than North Korea.
Next Article:IRAQ - Oct 10 - Gunmen Attack Arab League Delegation Visiting Iraq.

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