22 August – Iraqi constitution deadline

Iraq's parliament set a new deadline of Aug. 22 for drafting the country's constitution in order to give negotiators one week beyond today's U.S.-imposed deadline to work out their differences.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she's confident they'll finish the work in time, according to Bloomberg.

"They are responsible officials who needed more time," Rice said at the State Department today in Washington. "We are confident they will complete this process and continue on a path to a permanent government by the end of the year."

Leaders of Iraq's majority Shiite and minority Sunni Muslim and Kurdish communities agreed on issues ranging from oil revenue to the country's name, while postponing decisions on the thorniest questions, including the role of the Islamic religion, women's rights and self-determination for regions such as the Kurdish northern provinces, the Associated Press reported from Baghdad.

As Pravda.ru reported Monday, Iraqi officials were Sunday locked in talks over the new constitution ahead of today's deadline for an agreement. A survey conducted by Iraq's constitutional drafting committee showed that the majority of those responding supported full rights for women - as long as the freedoms are in accordance with Islam.

Negotiations were stalled on a number of issues, including the role of Islam in the state, the rights of women and the distribution of power between central and regional governments, Science Daily says.

The extent of regional autonomy and the role of Islamic law were the main sticking points still dividing the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.

Parliament has been summoned to a special sitting tonight and several negotiators said it was likely the National Assembly would commence its review of the new charter.

Shiite leaders said they were considering asking the National Assembly to approve the document without the agreement of the country's Sunni leaders.

The Sunnis' participation in the political process is seen as crucial in the effort to marginalize the Sunni-dominated guerrilla insurgency, the newspaper said.

As negotiations continued, roadside bombs killed five US soldiers in Iraq, further increasing pressure on the US President, George Bush.

At his Texas ranch, a group of protesters demanded that US troops be brought home.

Clinching a deal on a constitution is a key goal for Mr Bush, who said the process will undermine rebels among the Sunni Arab minority and aid US plans to hand power to Iraqis and withdraw. The U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, who previously oversaw the formation of a new state as an envoy to his native Afghanistan, has been actively involved in the process.

He said: "They're making great progress. They've reached agreement on almost all of the key issues. One or two issues are left, they're working very hard."

Mr Khalilzad said he hoped the constitution would bring the Sunnis into the Iraqi political system, and end a mainly Sunni uprising that shows no sign of weakening.

"The Iraqi Constitution will respect the rights of all Iraqis, men and women," he said.

"We have shared our views, I have, with the leaders, and of course it is for the Iraqis to decide for themselves. But we think it is very important that democracy and human rights - the rights that have been enumerated in the draft - are given equal weight to other issues, to the other source [Islam]."

Kurds want guarantees of existing freedoms in the north, while Islamists from the long-oppressed Shiite Muslim majority are pushing for Islamic law and the prospect of a Shiite autonomous region in the south. Sunni Arabs, dominant under Saddam Hussein, fear losing a share of northern and southern oilfields, Scotsman reports.

Rallies took place in Kurdish towns and Kirkuk calling for a referendum on Kurdish secession - an unlikely prospect given opposition in Baghdad, as well as Turkey, Iran and Syria.

Many observers expect vague language in the constitution on issues such as federalism, leaving it to future negotiation.

After a referendum on the constitution in October, a new general election is due to be held in December.

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