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Constitution framers request more time

US prods Iraqis to meet deadline

BAGHDAD -- Key members of the committee writing the new Iraqi constitution said yesterday that they need another month to finish the draft, threatening US efforts to maintain political momentum to combat the insurgency.

Later, President Jalal Talabani insisted that the Aug. 15 deadline for parliamentary approval must be met, and the United States stepped up pressure on the Iraqis to stick by the timetable.

In continuing violence, five US soldiers were killed by roadside bombs in two separate attacks in Baghdad, the US military said yesterday.

In Saturday's first attack, a patrol hit a roadside bomb in the southern Dora neighborhood, killing a soldier from Task Force Baghdad, a statement said. Two others were wounded.

Late Saturday night, about 11 p.m., four soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb exploded in southwestern Baghdad.

At least 1,794 members of the US military have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Marines also battled insurgents with tanks and aircraft in western Iraq after Americans came under attack from a village schoolhouse, the US military said. Eleven insurgents were killed, the military said.

The statement did not mention any Marine casualties from the battle in Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad. The building was rigged with explosives and fortified with at least three .30-caliber machine guns in the windows, a military statement said.

The constitutional committee's formal request to parliament for a delay will be submitted today, members said.

Talabani met with US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and afterward insisted that the deadline must be met. Talabani, a Kurd, began urgent consultations with parliament leaders to head off a delay.

The president's office released a statement saying he met with members of the National Assembly and stressed the necessity of finishing the writing of the constitution at the scheduled time.

Talabani demanded that maximum efforts be exerted to reach a national accord regarding the drafting of the constitution, the statement said.

Under the original deadline, the National Assembly had until Aug. 15 to approve the charter and submit it to a national referendum in mid-October. That formula was strongly supported by the Americans.

But major differences -- including disputes on such issues as federalism, dual nationality, and the role of Islam -- remain among the ethnic and religious groups represented on the committee.

Committee chairman Humam Hammoudi's recommendation of a 30-day extension was accepted, said one framer, Bahaa al-Araji.

Araji said Kurdish delegates wanted a six-month delay, but Shi'ites and Sunni Arabs decided to ask for 30 more days.

The United States had mounted considerable pressure on the Iraqis to meet the Aug. 15 deadline.

US officials believe a new Iraqi constitution will help calm the insurgency by encouraging the country's disaffected Sunni Arab community, which forms the core of the militants, to abandon the conflict and join the political process.

The violence continued yesterday when a car bomb exploded south of Baghdad, killing five civilians and wounding 10, including two police officers. The bomb targeted a police vehicle as it passed on a main road near Haswa, 30 miles south of Baghdad, said police Captain Muthanna Khaled Ali.

A convoy carrying several members of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress group was ambushed south of Baghdad, leaving one person dead and three wounded, his spokesman said.

The ambush occurred in Mahaweel, 50 miles south of Baghdad, Chalabi spokesman Entifadh Qanbar said. They were heading to the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala, he said.

Mahaweel is in the Sunni-insurgent area known as the ''triangle of death," where Shi'ite Muslims and US and Iraqi troops repeatedly have been attacked.

A day earlier, roadside bombs killed two British contractors in southern Iraq and at least seven people in the capital.

The Britons, who worked for the security firm Control Risks Group, were guarding a British Consulate convoy in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Two Iraqi children were wounded when a second device exploded five minutes later, police said.

Britain has about 8,500 troops in Iraq, mostly in the south. Its military headquarters are based in Basra, where Britain also has a consulate general's office.

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