Legislators vow to ready the country's post-Saddam Hussein constitution by 15 August, despite at least 18 outstanding items, including the country's official name, the role of Islam, a definition of federalism and the future of oil-rich Kirkuk.

 

The goal of the meetings is to "deploy the necessary efforts to reach a consensus," President Jalal Talabani told reporters late Sunday, as leaders arrived for the meeting at his Baghdad residence.

  

A second meeting bringing in figures from outside parliament was set for Monday, Talabani said.

  

We cannot reach solutions for all the outstanding issues tonight, but we will continue the meetings until a complete resolution is met"

Jalal Talabani,
Iraqi president

"We cannot reach solutions for all the outstanding issues tonight, but we will continue the meetings until a complete resolution is met," he said.

  

"We are in a race against the clock," Mahmud Othman, a member of the constitutional drafting committee, told AFP ahead of the meeting, adding that there was "great US and British pressure" to meet the 15 August dateline.

  

US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad issued a statement on Sunday in which he wished Iraqi leaders "all the best" in their negotiations.

 

Sistani's support

 

"All sides will need to make compromises, but should feel that their essential needs are met," he said.

  

Ali Sistani is said to be willing
to accept a federal Iraq

Personalities at the meeting include a leader of the conservative Shiite Arab majority in parliament, Abdel Aziz Hakim, and Sunni Vice-President Ghazi Al-Yawar.

  

The arrival of the president of the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, was delayed by a sandstorm that struck Baghdad on Sunday.

  

Hakim said in an interview with state-owned Iraqiya television ahead of the meeting that he was optimistic differences would be resolved.

  

"There are some points of disagreement and we still have some talking to do, but I am optimistic at the possibility of a consensus," Hakim said.

  

His statements came after Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, also from the Shiite majority, on Friday met Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and reported that the revered spiritual leader was willing to accept a federal Iraq.