Sunnis protest against Iraqi constitution as negotiators say it is finished

Thousands of Sunni demonstrators rallied in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on Monday to denounce Iraq's new constitution a day after negotiators finished the new charter without the endorsement of Sunni Arabs.

As said before, Sunni leaders have urged their community to defeat the charter in a nationwide referendum on Oct. 15, saying it had been rammed through the drafting committee by the dominant Shiite Arab and Kurdish alliance, Guardian reports.

The absence of Sunni endorsement, after more than two months of intensive negotiations, raised fears of more violence and set the stage for a bitter political fight ahead of the referendum. A political battle threatened to sharpen communal divisions at a time when relations among the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds appear to be worsening.

In Tikrit, at least 2,000 protesters assembled near the office of the Association of Muslims Scholars - a hardline Sunni clerical group opposed to the U.S. occupation - carrying Iraqi flags and portraits of the former dictator.

“We sacrifice our souls and blood for you, Saddam,” chanted the demonstrators. They carried pictures of Shiite clerics Muqtada Al-Sadir and Jawad Al-Khalisi who have joined the Sunnis in opposing the constitutional draft.

Sheik Yahya Ibrahim Al-Batawi, an organizer of the protest, read a statement denouncing the “Jewish constitution,” saying its goal was to divide Iraq along sectarian and ethnic lines.

Sunni negotiators delivered their rejection in a joint statement Sunday shortly after the draft was submitted to parliament. They branded the final version as “illegitimate” and asked the Arab League and the United Nations to intervene, the AP informs.

President Bush expressed disappointment that the Sunnis did not sign on but pinned his hopes on the referendum.

But the depth of disillusionment over the charter in the Sunni establishment extended beyond the 15 negotiators, who were appointed to the constitutional committee in June under U.S. pressure.

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