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Constitution Denounced by Sunnis, But Still Sent to Iraqi Parliament<P>By Dexter Filkins 

Constitution Denounced by Sunnis, But Still Sent to Iraqi Parliament

By Dexter Filkins 
and Robert F. Worth


Iraqi leaders presented a disputed constitution to the country’s parliament on Sunday, overriding the objections of Sunni negotiators and setting the stage here for a protracted period of political conflict.

The Sunni negotiators, who included former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, publicly denounced the constitution and called on Iraqi voters to send it down to defeat when it goes for a vote on Oct. 15. Some of the Sunnis said that they expected the guerrilla violence to surge.

A Sunni member of the constitutional committee, Mahmoud al-Mashadani, said, “We have reached a point where this constitution contains the seeds of the division of Iraq.”

In the face of these developments, President Bush, at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, praised the constitution as a milestone in Iraqi history, congratulating Iraqi leaders for “completing the next step in their transition from dictatorship to democracy.” Bush emphasized what he described as the charter’s protections for individual rights, and he tried to allay concerns about opposition from Sunni leaders.

“Some Sunnis have expressed reservations about various provisions of the constitution, and that’s their right as free individuals living in a free society,” Bush said. “There are strong beliefs among other Sunnis that this constitution is good for all Iraqis and that it adequately reflects compromises suitable to all groups.”

The Iraqi leaders, a group of mainly Shiite and Kurdish representatives, said they had decided to push ahead with the constitution after Sunni leaders submitted yet another list of demands. The American ambassador here, Zalmay Khalilzad, who had vigorously worked to bring the Sunnis into the deal, said he, too, had given up in frustration.

The Iraqi leaders entered the National Assembly chambers in the early afternoon, read the 39-page document aloud to the representatives and urged them go to out and persuade the people in their communities to vote for it in October.

Then the group, made up of about 40 of the most powerful Iraqi political leaders, drove across the fortified Green Zone to the palace of the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani. In a ceremony held in the courtyard of Talabani’s sandstone palace, they declared the new constitution the embodiment of the Iraqi nation.

Yet only four Sunni Arab leaders attended the event, and all were longtime exiles who had only recently returned. There were some noticeable absences: Adnan Pachachi, the former Iraqi foreign minister; Ghazi Yawer, the former Iraqi president; and Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister and secular Shiite leader.

Talabani, though casting a mostly positive light on the day’s events, expressed frustration with the Sunni negotiating team, a group hastily brought into the drafting process by Iraqi and American officials following the Sunni boycott of the January elections.

The 15 Sunni representatives took such a tough approach to the negotiations that several Shiite and Kurdish leaders said privately that there was no deal they would agree to.