US CONCESSIONS to Islamists on the role of religion in Iraqi law marked a turn in talks on a constitution, negotiators said yesterday as they raced to meet tomorrow's deadline to clinch a deal.
Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish negotiators all said there was accord on a bigger role for Islamic law than Iraq had before.
But a secular Kurdish politician said Kurds opposed making Islam the main source of law - a reversal of interim legal arrangements - and subjecting all legislation to a religious test.
"We understand the Americans have sided with the Shi'ites," he said. "It's shocking. It doesn't fit American values. They have spent so much blood and money here, only to back the creation of an Islamist state. I can't believe that's what the Americans really want or what the American people want."
Washington, with 140,000 troops still in Iraq, has insisted Iraqis are free to govern themselves yet made it clear it will not approve the kind of clerical rule seen in Shi'ite Iran, a state US President George Bush describes as "evil".
Sunni Arab negotiator Saleh al-Mutlak also said a deal was struck which would mean parliament could pass no legislation that "contradicted Islamic principles". A constitutional court would rule on any dispute on that, the Shi'ite official said.
"The Americans agreed, but on one condition - that the principles of democracy should be respected," Mutlak said.
"We reject federalism," he repeated, underlining continued Sunni opposition to Hakim's demands. Hundreds demonstrated in the Sunni city of Ramadi yesterday, echoing Mutlak's views. He urged Sunnis, dominant under Saddam Hussein but who have largely shunned politics and, in some cases, taken up arms in revolt, to vote in an October referendum to back a constitution.
It would now be written to defend "the unity of Iraq", he said. "We call on all Iraqis to register their names to participate in the coming referendum and elections," Mutlak said.
The Kurdish negotiator rushed to make clear his outrage at a deal on Islam. "We don't want dictatorship of any kind, including any religious dictatorship. Perhaps the Americans are negotiating to get a deal at any cost, but we will not accept a constitution at any cost," he said, adding that he believed Shi'ite leaders had used the precedent of Afghanistan to win over the ambassador's support.
Khalilzad, who said this month there would be "no compromise" on equal rights for women and minorities, helped draft a constitution in his native Afghanistan that declared it an "Islamic Republic" in which no law could contradict Muslim principles.
A day before the deadline for the new constitution, Sunni Arabs appealed Sunday to the United States and United Nations 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 final talks on Monday morning according to officials of all three groups. "I am not optimistic," said Kamal Hamdoun, a negotiator for the influential Sunni minority. "We either reach unanimity or not."
The initial Aug. 15 deadline was pushed to Monday after no agreement was reached, and Iraqi officials have insisted they would meet the new 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.