Work on the draft charter stalled after the 12 remaining Sunni members announced a walkout after the Tuesday assassination of Sunni member Mijbil Isa and committee adviser Dhamim Husayn al-Ubaidi.

On Saturday, Sunni committee member Salih al-Mutlaq said he and his colleagues had nearly reached agreement on most of the demands they had set, including an international investigation into the killings, better security, as well as greater Sunni role in deliberations.

"We have reached an agreement on most of the points, except for the international investigation," al-Mutlaq said. "We will try to find a formula to solve this problem and return to participating in the committee."

Earlier on Saturday, the drafting committee had decided to postpone discussions on key disputed issues until the Sunni Arab members ended their boycott.

Mahmud Uthman, a Kurdish member of the committee, identified those issues as federalism, self-determination, dual nationality and Iraq's national identity.

The committee is working against a 15 August deadline for completing the charter.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Saturday sought to placate the Sunni Arab constitional group.

Ibrahim Jaafari (R) met the new
US ambassador to Iraq

"No constitution will be written without the participation of all the communities of Iraq, especially that of Sunni Arabs," Talabani told reporters after a meeting with newly-arrived US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

Talabani said he had considered demands of Sunni Arab committee members on the drafting committee, adding: "I have taken measures which I hope will satisfy them."

Muslim scholars' condemnation

The Muslim Scholars' Association in Iraq on Saturday condemned military operations by what it called occupation troops and allied forces in the city of Rawa in western Iraq.

The group also denounced in a statement, a copy of which was obtained by Aljazeera, the arrest of lawyer Abd al-Hadi al-Ammar's wife.

The statement urged the United Nations to condemn these incidents and put an end to what the group called "a campaign of destruction targeting these cities and its residents".

Kidnappings claimed

Meanwhile, al-Qaida's wing in Iraq on Saturday claimed responsibility for abducting two Algerian diplomats from a Baghdad street.

Ali Belaroussi was abducted on
21 July  in Baghdad

The claim of responsibility for Thursday's abduction of Algeria's top envoy to Iraq, Ali Belaroussi, and fellow diplomat Azzedine Belkadi was made in an internet statement attributed to the country's most feared terror group, al-Qaida in Iraq.

The two diplomats were seized at gunpoint in the upscale al-Mansur district of western Baghdad.

The authenticity of the statement could not be verified.

Egyptian diplomat

In a strange twist, al-Qaida in Iraq posted a videotape on Saturday showing Egypt's top diplomat in Iraq, Ihab al-Sharif, whom the group claimed to have killed this month, answering questions about access by foreigners to tourist areas near the Sinai resort of Sharm al-Shaikh, where bombs killed at least 88 people earlier in the day.

It appeared the video, posted on the same website as the Algerian kidnap claim, was aimed at offering justification for the attacks in Sharm al-Shaikh.

Egypt's ambassador-designate 
Ihab al-Sharif was reported killed

"If you seek evidence of how the Jews are desecrating the land of the Muslims, contemplate the words of the Egyptian ambassador about Jewish access and desecration of the land of Israel," said a written statement accompanying the video.

In the video, al-Sharif answers questions about the legal status of Egypt's Sinai peninsula, which was returned by Israel in 1982.

"The peace process between Egypt and Israel divides the Sinai to four parts," said al-Sharif, who was wearing the same shirt as in another video posted on the web within days of his abduction.

"The part is called Part C inside Egyptian territory and in this area, Israelis and foreigners are allowed to have access without a visa," he said.

A statement posted with the video said that while the blood of Muslims was spilled in Iraq and Palestine, "the enemies of God are having fun and wandering the land of the Muslims".

It was unclear whether the release of the tape on the same day as the Sharm al-Shaikh attacks indicated a link between the perpetrators and the kidnappers of al-Sharif.

In other developments:

  • A male Iraqi, held on suspicion of insurgent activity, has died at a US aid station south of Baghdad after being found unconscious in his cell, the US military said on Saturday.
  • A series of attacks against Iraqi police and civilians continued on Saturday, leaving at least six dead. Among those killed were three Falluja police officers, found dead about 10km east of Falluja, police said.
  • Gunmen travelling in two cars shot and killed a Ministry of Interior employee on Friday night, police said. A Ministry of Transportation employee was also killed in a drive-by shooting, police said.