Iraq's parliament prepares to amend draft constitution

Iraq's parliament prepared to amend a draft constitution on Wednesday in a bid to defuse sectarian feuding just three days before the document is put to a referendum.

But though concessions made by the ruling Shi'ite and Kurdish coalition persuaded one prominent Sunni group to back the text, others stood firm in the hostility that has thwarted U.S. hopes of Saturday's vote being a celebration of a new national unity.

President Jalal Talabani hosted a meeting of senior figures that was expected to endorse a deal to make four minor changes to the charter distributed to millions of voters. Officials have said voters will be informed of the changes by television.

It is unclear how the split in the ranks of their leaders will affect Sunni voters -- about 20 percent of the population.

Further changes to the constitution, possibly more profound, may be discussed within the first four months of a parliament to be elected on December 15, assuming as most people do that Iraqis vote "Yes" on Saturday, government sources and legislators said.

The National Assembly announced a special evening session at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) and, anticipating no difficulty in securing a two-thirds majority, said it would be followed by celebratory speeches to an invited audience of diplomats and dignitaries.

"There will be a vote on these four amendments," said Saad Qandeel, a Shi'ite member of the constitutional drafting committee which spent weeks over the summer struggling, and failing, to clinch a deal that would satisfy the Sunni minority.

Listing the changes, which he conceded did not address the basic demand from the formerly dominant Sunnis to scrap plans for sweeping regional autonomy, he said one would add a clause emphasising "Iraq's unity, its earth, people and sovereignty".

"The second one confirms Iraq belongs to the Arab and Islamic worlds, the third confirms use of the Arabic language in Kurdistan," he said. These were also Sunni Arab concerns.

A clause on how men and women can pass Iraqi nationality to their children would also be slightly amended.

"These four items already exist in the constitution, it's just confirmation or clarification; there are no fundamental amendments because there is no time to do that," reports the Reuters. I.L.