Iraq leaders agree on constitution changes

Iraq's parliament amended its draft constitution on Wednesday in a final bid to stem bitter sectarian feuding three days before a referendum.

One major Sunni group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, did agree to back a "Yes" vote on Saturday, however, in return for a promise of a review of the constitution by a new parliament next year and some minor amendments now including a reassurance former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party would not be persecuted.

"I hope this is the beginning of a new kind of co-operation among all Iraqis," said President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.

"The only book that cannot be changed is the Koran."

Islamic Party officials joined other leaders as the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-dominated National Assembly formally adopted the changes without a vote at an evening ceremony complete with music, patriotic speeches and children bearing flowers.

The symbolism of national unity in a country riven by ethnic and sectarian bloodshed was bought with a fairly lengthy list of concessions Sunnis have sought in months of negotiations on the constitution. U.S. and U.N. officials have pushed the majority Shi'ites and their Kurdish allies to do more to bridge the gap, reports Reuters.

There were signs of movement among other Sunni leaders as well. Former President Ghazi al-Yawar, who had conspicuously failed to show up in August for a ceremony announcing the completion of the constitution, publicly endorsed it on Wednesday.

The National Assembly adopted the revisions to the draft constitution Wednesday evening, when no one raised any objections to the proposal. There was no vote.

The mixed reaction among Sunni leaders, while perhaps not quite what the Iraqi government and its U.S. backers were hoping for, suggested that the strategy of driving a wedge into the Sunni population was showing some success, informs Houston Chronicle.


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