Iraq Charter Goes To Voters

Shiite cleric Humam Hammudi, right, head of the Constitutional Committee in Iraqs Transitional National Assembly (TNA) talks to the media during a press conference after an Assembly session, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2005 in Baghdad. The Iraqi parliament convened Sunday and received the new draft constitution but adjourned without a vote after the document was read to the members. (AP Photo/Wathiq Khuzaie, Pool) AP

Iraqi negotiators finished the new constitution and referred it to the voters but without the endorsement of Sunni Arabs, a major setback for the U.S. strategy to lure Sunnis away from the insurgency and hasten the day U.S. troops can go home.

The absence of Sunni Arab endorsement, after more than two months of intensive negotiations, raised fears of more violence and set the stage for a bitter political fight ahead of an Oct. 15 nationwide referendum on the document.

No sooner had officials announced agreement between the Shiites and Kurds on the draft charter than the Sunni Arabs on the constitutional committee said they had rejected it. Sunni leaders promised to rally their community to vote down the charter in an Oct. 15 referendum.

To the end, the Sunni Arabs were asking for concessions. But the Shiites and Kurds, the new political masters of Iraq, decided they'd given away enough.

CBS News Correspondent Lara Logan reports that it's too late for the Sunnis to negotiate the constitution. Currently, five million copies are being printed and distributed to Iraqi families, and it will be up to them to decide during an October referendum.

A document that American officials hoped would bring together Iraq's myriad ethnic and religious groups and lay the foundation for a new, democratic nation instead triggered a major political battle over the future of the country more than two years after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Sunni negotiators delivered their rejection in a joint statement shortly after the draft was submitted to parliament. They branded the final version as "illegitimate" and asked the Arab League, the United Nations and "international organizations" to intervene against the document.

In other developments:

  • A suicide car bomber targeting a U.S. patrol in southeastern Mosul killed three civilians, police said.

  • Iraqi police found nine bodies in Mosul's al Intisar neighborhood. Eight victims were civilians and the other a policeman, authorities said.

  • The government's top Sunni cleric said 36 bodies found three days ago in a dry riverbed near the Iranian border were believed to be Sunni Arabs. Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai, head of the government's Sunni Endowments, said the bodies "are believed to be for people from (Baghdad's northern neighborhood of) Hurriyah and they belong to the Sunni sect." The cleric did not give further details. If true, the killings are likely to heighten sectarian tensions. Both Sunnis and Shiites have accused one another of involvement in "death squad" assassinations of members of the rival sect. All the men were shot in the head, and some were handcuffed. The bodies were discovered near Badrah, southeast of Baghdad.

  • In the southern city of Kut, authorities said they found the bodies of six people who were handcuffed, blindfolded and tortured.

    Intervention is unlikely, however, and no further amendments to the draft are possible under the law, said a legal expert on the drafting committee, Hussein Addab.

    "I think if this constitution passes as it is, it will worsen everything in the country," said Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni negotiator.

    President Bush expressed disappointment that the Sunnis did not sign on but pinned his hopes on the referendum.

    "Some Sunnis have expressed reservations about various provisions in the constitution and that's their right as free individuals in a free society," Bush said in Crawford, Texas.

    He said the referendum was a chance for Iraqis to "set the foundation for a permanent Iraqi government."

    But the depth of disillusionment over the charter in the Sunni establishment extended beyond the 15 negotiators, who were appointed to the constitutional committee in June under U.S. pressure.

    The country's Sunni vice president, Ghazi al-Yawer, did not show up at a Sunday ceremony marking completion of the document. When President Jalal Talabani said that al-Yawer was ill, senior government officials including Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi howled with laughter.

    "The constitution is left to our people to approve or reject it," said Talabani, a Kurd. "I hope that our people will accept it despite some flaws."

    A top Sunni who did attend the ceremony, parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani, said he thought the final document contained "too much religion" and too little protection of women's rights.

    Despite last-minute concessions from the majority Shiites and Kurds, the Sunnis said the document threatened the unity of Iraq and its place in the Arab world.

    • Joel Roberts

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