Iraqi President says constitutional talks are "historic" while insurgents' attacks continue

President Jalal Talabani and other top politicians on Wednesday praised as "historic" the last-minute compromises that negotiators reached on the draft constitution and urged Iraqis to vote "yes" in this weekend's referendum.

But insurgents continued deadly attacks aimed at wrecking Saturday's vote. A suicide bomber set off hidden explosives in a crowd of men waiting outside an Iraqi army recruitment center in the northwestern town of Tal Afar, killing 30 Iraqis and wounding 35, officials said.

In Baghdad, a government minister escaped an apparent assassination attempt when a convoy of government cars preparing to pick him up at his office was hit by a suicide car bomb that wounded five of his bodyguards and five Iraqi bystanders, police said.

Those and other militant attacks on Wednesday raised Iraq's death toll over the last 17 days to 425, according to an Associated Press count based on police reports.

Still, the Iraqi government stepped up its campaign urging Iraqis to ignore militant attacks aimed at wrecking Saturday's constitutional referendum and to vote "yes" for the document aimed at advancing the country's democratic reforms.

"I have good news for the Iraqi people on this historic day. An agreement has been reached on amendments to the draft constitution," Talabani said during a nationally televised news conference. "There is no excuse for Arab Sunnis to boycott the vote now that we have responded to all their demands and suggestions."

He was followed at the microphone by several other Iraqi politicians who also praised the compromises reached on Tuesday night by Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish powerbrokers on the charter ahead of Saturday's referendum.

They included National Assembly Speaker Hajim Al-Hassani, a Sunni; Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni; former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a Shiite; and Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, a Shiite who heads the Iraqi United Alliance, the largest coalition in parliament.

The draft constitution already has been printed by the United Nations and millions of copies are being distributed to the public for the vote. New additions cannot be included now.

Therefore, the only way that they can be announced to potential voters is through the media, and Talabani began that campaign Wednesday with his televised news conference.

The breakthrough deal reached Tuesday night by powerbrokers from Iraq's Shiite majority and Sunni and Kurdish minorities attempts to address concerns among Sunnis that have prompted many of them to say they will vote "no" in the referendum.

Many Shiites and Kurds plan to vote "yes," but Sunnis fear the draft document being distributed to voters will fragment Iraq, allowing Shiites and Kurds to create mini-states in the oil-rich north and south, leaving Sunnis in a poor central zone.

The deal the negotiators reached Tuesday night agrees on a mechanism to consider amending the constitution after it is approved in Saturday's nationwide vote.


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