Muslim Groups hold negotiations on Iraqi Charter

With U.S. mediation, Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish Muslim officials negotiated with Sunni Arab leaders Sunday over possible last-minute additions to Iraq's proposed constitution, trying to win Sunni support ahead of next weekend's crucial referendum.

But the sides remained far apart over basic issues including the federalism that Shiites and Kurds insist on, but that Sunnis fear will lead to the country's eventual break-up. And copies of the constitution were already being passed out to the public.

Though major attacks in the insurgent campaign to disrupt the referendum have waned in recent days, violence killed 13 Iraqis Sunday.

In one attack, masked gunmen in police commando uniforms burst into a school in the northern town of Samarra, pulled a Shiite teacher out of his classroom and shot him dead in the hallway as students watched from their desks, police said. A suicide car bomb killed a woman and a child in the southern city of Basra.

A U.S. Marine was killed by a roadside bomb in the town of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on Saturday, the military announced. It was the ninth American death during a series of offensives waged in western Iraq seeking to knock al-Qaida militants and other insurgents off balance and prevent attacks during Saturday's national vote on the constitution, reports the AP.

According to CBC, The death brought to 1,953 the number of U.S. military personnel who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, by an Associated Press count.

Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr told an Arab newspaper it will take five years to put down the insurgency. He said Iraq's security forces only carry rifles "while the terrorists possess all kinds of advanced weapons."

"Be patient with us for five years before restoring security and the state's respect," Jabr said in an interview with the London-based Sharq al-Awsat newspaper.

Jabr said the number of foreign militants involved in Iraq's insurgency had fallen to around 900, from as many as 3,000 three months ago.

Their ranks have fallen because of deaths inflicted by U.S. and Iraqi military offensives - but also because al-Qaida in Iraq has started sending fighters to other Arab countries to build terror networks, Jabr told the newspaper.

As Sunni-led insurgents staged attacks to discourage Iraqis from voting in the referendum, the government launched a campaign to persuade Iraqis to go to the polls despite the threats - and despite calls by some Sunni Arab leaders for a boycott.

"We think (a boycott) would weaken Iraq because the only way that Iraq can recover is done by concentrating on the political process, writing the constitution and participating in it," government spokesman Laith Kubba said. "Any act that calls for violence or boycotting would deviate the country from its course."


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