US says `known terrorist’ killed as 45 die in fighting
BAGHDAD (AP) â€” In a dramatic turn, the US ambassador opened the door Tuesday to further changes in Iraq’s draft constitution and signalled the Bush administration had not given up on a campaign to push through a charter that will be broadly accepted.
The nation’s Sunni Arabs had demanded revisions in the draft, finalised last weekend by the Shiite-Kurdish majority over Sunni objections. A Shiite leader said only minor editing would be accepted since the draft was now ready for the voters in an October 15 referendum.
But Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters he believed “a final, final draft has not yet been, or the edits have not been, presented yet” â€” a strong hint to the Shiites and Kurds that Washington wants another bid to accommodate the Sunnis.
“That is something that Iraqis will have to talk to each other (about) and decide for themselves,” Khalilzad said, speaking alongside a major Sunni Arab community leader who denounced the current draft and accused the Shiite-dominated government’s security forces of assassinating Sunnis.
The Bush administration wants a constitution acceptable to all communities to help quell the Sunni-dominated insurgency so that US and other foreign troops can begin to go home. On Tuesday, US warplanes struck suspected three Al Qaeda targets near the Syrian border, killing what the US military called a “known terrorist.” Iraqi officials said 45 people died, most in fighting between an Iraqi tribe that supports the foreign fighters and another that opposes them.
The Shiite leadership had no comment on Khalilzad’s remarks. As constitution wrangling drew to a close last week, Shiite officials complained privately that the Sunnis were stonewalling and that further negotiations were pointless.
Influential Shiite lawmaker Khaled Attiyah, a member of the constitution drafting committee, insisted Tuesday that “no changes are allowed” to the draft “except for minor edits for the language.” Sunnis objected primarily to federalism â€” creating Kurdish and Shiite mini-states and threatening Sunni access to oil wealth â€” provisions to purges of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated Baath Party from government and the description of Iraq as an Islamic but not Arab state, lumping it together with Shiite-dominated Iran.
Shiites consider some of the Sunni demands, especially on the Baath Party and federalism, as matters of principle not subject to compromise.
“From a legal point of view, no change can be made to the draft,” Shiite negotiator Hussein said. “If (Khalilzad) means legal change, then this is not allowed. If he means political change, I don’t know what he means.” But signs were clear that Washington did not feel constrained by legalism and was ready to pressure the Shiites after more than two years of deferring to the Shiite clergy on key steps in Iraq’s transition â€” moves that helped drive apart the Sunnis and the Americans.
Before addressing reporters, Khalilzad warmly introduced Sunni community leader Adnan Dulaimi and then stood by as he accused security forces of the Shiite-led interior ministry of murdering Sunnis. Dulaimi demanded the resignation of Iraq’s interior minister, a member of the biggest Shiite Party.
Both Shiites and Sunnis have accused one another of reprisal killings. The interior ministry has denied targeting Sunnis because of their sect alone.
Sunni Arabs form an estimated 20 per cent of the population. They could still scuttle the charter because of a rule that states that if two-thirds of the voters in any three provinces reject the draft, it would be defeated.
Sunnis form the majority in four provinces but their numbers are not so great that they could ensure a two-thirds margin. If voters reject the charter, elections must be held for a new parliament and a new constitution drafted.
Even if the Sunnis lose the referendum vote, a bitter political battle at a time when the Sunni-led insurgency shows no sign of abating could plunge the country into a full-scale sectarian conflict.
The airstrikes, which included 500-pound GBU-12 guided bombs, began about 6:20am in a cluster of towns near Qaim along the Syrian border, 320 kilometres northwest of Baghdad, a US statement said.
It made no mention of tribal fighting but said four bombs were used to destroy a house occupied by “terrorists” outside the town of Husaybah. Two more bombs destroyed a second house in Husaybah, occupied by Abu Islam, described as “a known terrorist,” the statement added.
“Islam and several other suspected terrorists were killed in that attack,” the statement said. Several of Islam’s associates fled his house in Husaybah for the nearby town of Karabilah, the statement said, citing intelligence reports.
“Around 8:30am, a strike was conducted on the house in Karabilah using two precision-guided bombs,” the statement said. “Several terrorists were killed in the strike but exact numbers are not known.” Iraqi officials said most of the 45 dead were from the pro-government Bumahl tribe and the pro-insurgent Karabilah tribe, which have clashed before. The Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq condemned attacks by foreign fighters against “our beloved people” and urged the government to “stop criminals and terrorists from crossing into Iraq.”