Iraqi parliament extends constitution deadline


Iraq's parliament has agreed to allow an extra week for negotiations on a constitution after negotiators asked for more time to reach a deal.

With less than 20 minutes to go until time was to run out at midnight (9 pm Irish time), parliament voted to extend the deadline for a draft constitution to be drawn up, by a week to August 22nd.

Negotiators on the committee drawing up the constitution had asked for 10 days to settle disputes over a number of issues, notably the extent to which federal regions will have autonomy.

The delay is a blow to efforts by US diplomats who have been shepherding the talks and to Washington's hopes that a timely agreement.

As Iraqi leaders sought to put a brave face on the delay, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said the main obstacles to a deal were the issues of federalism and revenue sharing.

"This delay will not shake the confidence of the Iraqi people, which stands behind its parliament," said President Jalal Talabani, who has chaired intensive talks this past week.

The deadline of August 15th was set down in the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), an interim constitution sponsored by the US occupying power 18 months ago.

The legality of the 11th-hour extension, discussed throughout the day, had been questioned by some legislators. But few politicians supported the alternative - dissolving parliament and calling new elections, which many fear could worsen instability.

Earlier, two explosions rattled Baghdad after dark, sounding like insurgent mortar fire, as leaders talked in secret session.