Iraqi sandstorm halts constitution talks

A massive sandstorm has derailed a crucial meeting of Iraqi leaders called to break the constitutional deadlock with a week left before a deadline on writing the new charter.

    Almost 1000-sandstorm-related health cases were reported

    The storm on Monday prevented constitutional negotiations due to be held at President Jalal Talabani's residence, with many leaders unable to travel, including Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, whose helicopter was grounded in the north.

    "Following consultations with President Jalal Talabani and others, it was decided to postpone the meeting from Monday to Tuesday because of the bad weather conditions," a presidential statement said.
    "The meetings will resume on 9 August and continue over the following days in order to reach a consensus on the constitution, before forwarding it to parliament on 15 August," it said.

    According to legislators, at least 18 key items remain to be settled, including women's rights, the country's official languages and the future of the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk.

    City at a standstill 

    The sandstorm coated Baghdad in a cloak of orange dust from early on Monday, leaving thousands of inhabitants with breathing difficulties and forcing others to stay indoors. 

    Twelve Iraqis were killed in attacks
    despite the storm

    Nearly 1000 sandstorm-related cases were reported at the city's Yarmuk Hospital which saw one 60-year-old woman die, while hundreds of other people visited private clinics and family doctors as fog-like dust sat over the city.
    Traffic came to a virtual standstill, while those who dared step out wore masks or covered their mouths with a piece of cloth.

    The capital's main airport was shut.
    "You can barely see 15m ahead," said police Captain Ali Husain as he struggled with the sandy onslaught at his traffic post in a central Baghdad square.

    Armed groups attacks

    The sandstorm, however, did not deter armed groups, who killed at least 12 Iraqis, mostly security personnel across the country.

    Armed groups killed 12 people, including three Iraqis, one of them a soldier, in a gunfight between joint Iraqi-US forces and insurgents in Samarra, north of Baghdad.
    Two police officers were shot dead further north in Shirkah, while two employees of the state-owned Northern Oil Company were also shot dead near Kirkuk.

    Another employee of the trade ministry was shot dead by gunmen in eastern Baghdad. Four others were killed in other attacks.



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