Iraq's Sunnis Ask U.S. For Help

An Iraqi volunteer pastes posters encouraging Iraqis to vote for the new constitution in a national referendum on Oct. 15, in southern city of Basra, south of Baghdad, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2005. Talks on Iraq's new constitution have stalled over the role of Islam and the distribution of the country's oil wealth. Iraqis have until Monday night to complete work on the draft, otherwise parliament must dissolve. AP

A day before the deadline for the new constitution, Sunni Arabs appealed Sunday to the United States to prevent Shiites and Kurds from pushing a draft through parliament without their consent, warning it would only worsen the crisis in Iraq.

Leaders of the Sunni Arab, Shiite and Kurdish factions planned make-or-break talks for 11 a.m. Monday, according to officials of all three groups. "I am not optimistic," Sunni Arab negotiator Kamal Hamdoun said. "We either reach unanimity or not."

Iraqi officials insisted they would meet the new Monday deadline and present a final document to the National Assembly, dominated by Shiites and Kurds. But the chief government spokesman suggested another delay may be necessary.

The deadline for a new constitution already was extended by a week last Monday after negotiators failed to agree on a number of contentious issues, including federalism, distribution of Iraq's oil wealth, power relationships among the provinces and the role of the Shiite clerical hierarchy in Najaf.

Since then, Shiite and Kurdish negotiators have reportedly agreed on a number of issues. Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, said 97 percent of the draft had been finished and predicted the document would be forwarded to parliament on time Monday.

CBS News Correspondent Lara Logan reports that Sunnis and Shiites found rare common ground in rejecting proposals that would split Iraq into federal states, depriving the central government of control over the nation's oil.

Government spokesman Laith Kubba expressed hope that political leaders would complete the draft by the deadline. If not, Kubba said there were two options: amend the interim constitution again and extend the deadline or dissolve parliament.

But the Sunni Arabs complained that they have been sidelined in the talks and have only been invited to one session with the other groups since the extension was granted.

In other recent developments:

  • An American soldier was killed Sunday by a roadside bomb near the northern city of Tikrit, the U.S. military said. As of Saturday, at least 1,865 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

  • A leading Republican senator says the longer the U.S. spends in Iraq, the more that conflict starts looking like the Vietnam War. Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel told ABC the U.S. needs to draft a strategy to leave Iraq. The Nebraska senator says a "stay the course" policy isn't working — and he says more troops aren't the answer, either.

  • Ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein sought in a published letter to cast himself as a martyr, telling an old friend that his "soul and existence is to be sacrificed" for the Arab cause. The Jordanian friend received the letter through the International Committee of the Red Cross, which verified its authenticity and said it had been censored by Saddam's American captors in Iraq. "My soul and my existence is to be sacrificed for our precious Palestine and our beloved, patient and suffering Iraq," said the letter, which was published in two Jordanian newspapers Sunday and made available to The Associated Press.

  • Baghdad city councilman Sabir al-Issawi was in serious condition after a Saturday ambush that left one of his bodyguards dead and three others wounded, officials said.

  • A car bomb went off near a restaurant in Baghdad's Shiite district of Kazimiyah, killing four civilians and wounding nine, police said.

    Meanwhile, as of late Sunday, Sunni Arab negotiators said they were sticking by their opposition to federalism and their other demands.

    "At a time when there are few hours left to announce the draft, we still see no active coordination and seriousness to draft the constitution," the Sunni Arab negotiators said in a statement.

    They urged the United States, the United Nations and the international community to intervene to prevent a draft from moving forward without unanimous agreement among all three factions — a move which "would make the current crisis more complicated."

    • Stephen Smith

      Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com

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