Committee drafting Iraqi constitution may seek more time


IRAQ: The team drawing up Iraq's new constitution is considering giving itself more time to write the document, but it still looks set to meet its mid-August deadline under intense US pressure.

The drafting of the constitution is a major plank in the US administration's plans for democracy in Iraq and is seen as perhaps the best chance for a political end to the insurgency. Violence, however, continued yesterday, with a car bomb killing seven people at an Iraqi police checkpoint near Baghdad.

Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, with US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, said it was essential that the US-backed timetable for writing the constitution was met and the document presented to parliament by the August 15th deadline.

Many of the 71 members on the drafting committee say they need more time, while others say the priority is meeting the deadline. The debate has come to a head because any extension must be requested by today.

The committee met all day yesterday but could not reach a decision. Members said they would meet again today. At the same time, they said committee chairman Humam Hammoudi would meet Mr Talabani and the parliament speaker to discuss the issue.

Just as there are deep divisions among committee members over what should be in the constitution, there are profound differences of opinion over whether there should be a delay.

According to Iraq's interim constitution, drawn up last year with the help of US and British diplomats, an extension of six months can be requested.

If a delay is granted, it would set back the timetable for Iraq's transition to democracy, a schedule the US is keen for the country's politicians stick to.

The car bomb at a police checkpoint south of Baghdad which killed seven people also wounded 12, while another car bomb in central Baghdad killed five and wounded 20 on Saturday.

In Mahawil on the way to the southern city of Kerbala yesterday, gunmen ambushed a convoy from deputy prime minister Ahmad Chalabi's political party, killing one security guard and wounding three, an aide to Chalabi said. Mr Chalabi was not in the convoy, Mr Qanbar said.