Iraqi president says constitution will be drafted by deadline

Iraqi authorities express concern over the surge of violence against Shiite clerics. Iraq's president addressed hundreds of Shiite clerics on Thursday, calling for national unity and saying a draft of the country's new constitution would be completed by next month's deadline.

In Najaf, President Jalal Talabani made his comments shortly after meeting with leading Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the holy city, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Baghdad.

"Drafting the constitution, God-willing, will be done on schedule and I am confident about cooperation" between Shiite and Kurdish legislators to do the job, Talabani said.

He added that all Iraqis will participate in drafting the constitution including representatives from the Sunni Arab community, whose members boycotted January's general elections.

"The constitution will be comprehensive and will include many of the ideas that we want and paid for with blood," Talabani said. "The honorable Islamic religion will have the place it deserves in the constitution."

A parliamentary committee writing Iraq's new charter should finalize a draft by Aug. 15 so it can be ready for a referendum two months later. A new constitution must be ratified before fresh elections in December, says the AP.

The 15 Sunni Arabs nominated to the committee joined it Tuesday, officials said. The list of 15 was approved by a group of 50 Sunni Arab religious, tribal and political leaders. The Sunnis and a single representative of Iraq's small Sabian community will sit on a special committee that will be formed in tandem with an existing 55-member body exclusively made up of elected legislators.

In Baghdad, three attacks on diplomats in four days prompted some Arab and Muslim governments to raise questions Wednesday about security as a condition for upgrading ties to the new Iraqi government, as the United States wants.

Bahrain's top envoy in Baghdad was wounded, and Pakistani ambassador wasn’t hurt during an attempt of kidnapping Tuesday. Saturday night new Egypt's envoy to Baghdad was kidnapped in the Iraqi capital, and an al-Qaida group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi posted his ID cards and threatened to kill the diplomat in a statement on its Web-site.

More than a dozen Arab nations have diplomatic missions in Baghdad, but none has a full ambassador - in part because of security fears and in part because governments are hesitant to take a step that could be seen as condoning the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

Jordan's deputy prime minister, Marwan Muasher, said his country was "determined" to send an ambassador "but we are awaiting measures to be put in place to ensure his safety in Iraq."

On the photo: President Jalal Talabani

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