Iraq draft charter sneaks in

“Few issues remain to be settled and will be dealt with within three days,” said Iraq’s parliament speaker Hajim al-Hasani, addressing MPs.

“There is a determination to reach an agreement on all points … All parties will work within the next three days to reach an agreement.”

After a parliament session which lasted barely 10 minutes, Mr Hasani told reporters that there were three issues that still needed to be resolved.

“These points include federalism, and the way to form these (federal) regions … the terminology used (in de-Bathification process), whether to use the term Baath party or Saddam’s Baath …, the other issue is structuring of authority between the presidency, parliament and the government.”

President Jalal Talabani said the issues would be discussed by the MPs, though he did not elaborate on what they were.

“The big majority of it has been agreed but three articles remain,” Talabani told Agence France Press.

“Now we will give a chance to members of the national assembly to look at it and I hope within three days these problems will be solved.”

US President George W Bush has downplayed deep political schisms in Iraq as MPs received the draft constitution on time.

“Iraq’s leaders are once again defying the terrorists and pessimists by completing work on a democratic constitution. The establishment of a democratic constitution will be a landmark event in the history of Iraq and the history of the Middle East,” Mr Bush said in a speech to about 15,000 veterans in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“All of Iraq’s main ethnic and religious groups are working together on this vital project. All made the courageous choice to join the political process. And together they will produce a constitution that reflects the values and traditions of the Iraqi people,” said Mr Bush.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also praised Iraqis for their first post-Saddam Hussein draft constitution, saying they had shown resolve in the face of extremism and violence.

“The process by which Iraqis have reached this point is historic and in the best tradition of democracy,” Rice said, stressing the extensive discussions among Iraqis that led to the draft charter.

“From Iraq’s first free elections in January, to the creation of an inclusive transitional government in the spring, to today’s draft constitution, free Iraqis have shown determination and resolve in the face of extremism and violence,” she said.

Negotiations on the charter, a key stage in Iraq’s political transition following the toppling of Saddam in April 2003, have been dogged by differences over the role of Islam, federalism and the sharing of oil-wealth.