"We have agreed on 151 of the 153 articles in the constitution, including the federal status of the government and the status of regions and provinces," Jaafari said on Tuesday. 

He said issues concerning human rights, including women's rights, have been agreed upon.

"We have made an important stride," the Shia prime minister said. 
 
In a nail-biting drama, parliament on Monday received only an incomplete draft of the country's first post-Saddam constitution submitted under intense US pressure but without the approval of the Sunni Arab minority.

The charter's writers beat a midnight deadline by a few minutes to present the constitution that will shape the future of 27 million war-battered Iraqis and could pave the way for a withdrawal of foreign troops.

Issues unresolved

But the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni political organisation, said on Tuesday that its representatives had not had a chance to read the final draft before it was presented to the legislature.

"The party condemns this matter and considers it as a violation to the principle of accord on which the party has agreed to participate in the discussion regarding the
constitution."

Sunni nominees want a chance
to be able to read the final draft

Several issues remained unresolved, including the mechanism for implementing federalism, the treatment of former Saddam government officials, and how to divide authority among the presidency, parliament and government.

Negotiations will take place over the next three days especially with Sunnis to bridge remaining differences over the text, which must be approved in an October referendum.
  
Under stiff US pressure, the Shia and Kurds apparently reached a compromise on issues including the political structure of Iraq and the relationship between religion and state.

But the Sunnis, the former elite under Saddam whose support is seen as vital in ending the uprising, warned on Tuesday that the charter in its current form would divide the country.
  
Divisive draft

"The draft is divisive. It will divide the society as there are many negatives in it," Sunni negotiator Saleh al-Mutlaq said.

"Ninety-nine per cent of Sunnis are unhappy with it. It will fail during the referendum."

Sunnis oppose federalism, fearing a decentralised government will cut their share of the nation's vast oil reserves, concentrated in the Kurdish north and Shia south.

"We have agreed on 151 of the 153 articles in the constitution, including the federal status of the government and the status of regions and provinces"

Ibrahim Jaafari,
Iraqi Prime Minister

The charter in Article 109 stipulates "the oil and gas of all the regions belong to the entirety of the Iraqi people", adding that the management of the resources should be with the central government in Baghdad and with the oil-producing regions. 
 
"The revenues should be equitably distributed throughout the country according to the population size (of each region)," states the article.
  
Sunnis are rejecting the clause but are politically weak, holding few seats in parliament after largely boycotting the January elections.

Sunnis also consider the submission of the draft constitution to the general assembly without their approval as unconstitutional.

Huge differences

Al-Mutlaq told Aljazeera: ''We have not officially been acquainted with the final version of the constitution draft, but there was discussion on disputed items up to the last 30 minutes. There were huge differences but they decided to take the draft to the national assembly.

"As we see it, such an act was illegal and illegitimate and has nothing to do with the moral commitment that has been achieved between us in the past.

''A decision by the national assembly stipulates that all decisions should be reached by conciliation, but they have decided to dispose of the constitution draft without conciliation. The submitted draft was incomplete, as admitted by the assembly speaker.
 
''They should have dissolved the national assembly and state clearly to the Iraqi people that they have failed to reconcile their differences in drafting the constitution,'' al-Motlaq said.

''The demands by Sunni Arabs are consistent with Iraq's interests. But as we see it, the items included in the constitution draft will ultimately lead to Iraq's partition. This is why we have introduced those items to the draft that define Iraq's national identity, such as saying Iraq is part of the Arab and Islamic world.
 
''What they have done was omitting the Arab world affiliation leaving only the Islamic identity. This was not in compliance to Kurdish demands alone but also to the desire of a large portion of our brothers in the alliance who do not want Iraq's Arab-Islamic identity, because of their relations with Iran,"

Al-Mutlaq warned that a referendum on the constitution in October would fail.
 
''We are fully aware that this constitution will be rejected by the Iraqi people. We are much alarmed that if the constitution is rejected, it means that Iraq will be heading for another interim stage, which further aggravates the security situation,', al-Mutlaq added. 

The Iraqi Islamic party also denounced the constitution draft.
 
The secretary-general for the party, Tariq al-Hashimi, said at a news conference in Baghdad on Tuesday that his party had not participated in drafting the constitution.
 
The draft published by Iraqi newspapers on Tuesday is not identical to the text approved before submission to the national assembly, al-Hashimi said.
 
''We have opposed several items in the constitution that bear sectarian and fanatic gestures along with the tendency to marginalise others. It also contains phrases that look inconsistent with a constitution that introduces a social contract for the Iraqis.
 
''We will review these issues with party members and with our supporters to formulate a stance after promulgating the final constitution draft,'' al-Hashimi said.

Shia opposition

Spokesman Laith Kubba ruled out
major changes to a draft charter

Iraq's Shia-led government on Tuesday ruled out any major change to a draft constitution that parliament looks set to pass this week in the teeth of minority Sunni objections that it could ignite civil war.    

"The draft that was submitted is approximately the draft
that will be implemented," government spokesman Laith Kubba said after parliament received the text before a midnight deadline.

The Shia head of the parliamentary drafting committee
again made clear he did not intend to reopen contentious clauses such as those on autonomous "federal" regions that Arab Sunnis say discriminate against them and could break up the state.
 

Humam Hammudi rejected these concerns, saying Sunni negotiators did not necessarily reflect the wishes of the minority.

He also outlined his backing for a decentralised structure for Iraq. 
 
"If (the government) had a say in every matter it would become a new dictatorship," he said. "The ruler would become a dictator with the available pool of oil wealth."

Hammudi also said that three days were not enough to win over the Sunni Arabs, and the document they rejected may ultimately have to be approved by parliament as is and submitted to the people in a referendum.

Asked how to break the impasse, Hammudi said "the Iraqi people will rule" and suggested that the elected parliament could debate the issues and take a decision.

Kurd stance
 
But Kurds also expressed some discontent with the compromise text.
  
"The document will be divisive as every Sunni is against it, Kurds are lukewarm in their response, while only the Shia may have something to take home," said one Kurdish source close to negotiations.
  
The US had pressed the Kurds to climb down on two key demands, self-determination and inclusion of oil-rich Kirkuk in their autonomous northern region, as well as softening its stand on the role of Islam.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said the draft was widely agreed upon.
  
"The big majority of it has been agreed but three articles remain," Talabani said.

"Now we will give a chance to members of the national assembly to look at it and I hope within three days these problems will be solved." 

"Ninety-nine percent of Sunnis are unhappy with it. It will fail during the referendum"

Saleh al-Mutlaq,
Sunni negotiator

Approving the draft and submitting it to voters in an 15 October referendum risks a backlash among Sunni Arabs.

The 15 Sunni members of the drafting committee issued a statement saying they had rejected the proposal because the government and the committee did not abide by an agreement for consensus.

They said agreement on the document was still far off

Speaking to Aljazeera by phone from Baghdad, Iraqi journalist Dhiya al-Nasiri said: "The only constitutional choice in so far as federalism and other issues are concerned is through the ballot box.

"If the draft constitution is to be rejected, polls are the best choice and guarantee for doing that," he added.

Ballot centres were opened at the beginning of August and they will be closed by the month's end, he said.

Opposing stands

There have been demands to allow more time for voter registration but 15 October will be the day to vote for or against the constitution, al-Nasiri said.

"Anti-constitution groups have to win two-thirds of the votes in three provinces if they want to defeat the constitution", he said.

"Pro-constitution rallies have been organised in Kurdistan, some southern cities and Baghdad", he added.

"On the other hand, there have been anti-constitution demonstrations in western Iraqi cities such as that organised in Dour town, the hometown of former Iraqi vice-president Izzat al-Douri", he said.

There is a clear split on the constitutional issue, but 15 October will be the decisive day, al-Nasiri said.