Deal reached on Iraqi constitution

Iraqi negotiators reached a breakthrough deal on the constitution yesterday, and at least one Sunni Arab party said it would now urge its followers to approve the charter in this weekend’s referendum. Meanwhile, suicide bombings and other attacks killed more than 50 people in the insurgent campaign aimed at intimidating voters.

Under the deal, the two sides agreed on a mechanism to consider amending the constitution after it is approved in Saturday’s referendum. The next parliament, to be formed in December, will set up a commission to consider amendments, which would later have to be approved by parliament and submitted to a referendum.

The agreement boosts the chances that the draft constitution will be passed in Saturday’s nationwide vote. Shiite and Kurdish leaders support the draft and the United States has been eager to see it approved to avert months more of political turmoil, delaying plans to start a withdrawal of U.S. forces.

In return, the agreement guarantees Sunni Arabs the ability to try later to introduce major changes they want, aimed at reducing the autonomous powers that Shiites and Kurds would have under the federal system created by the charter, negotiators said.



Al-Qaida plans to expand war in region

In a letter to his top deputy in Iraq, al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader says the United States “ran and left” in Vietnam and the jihadists must have a plan ready to fill the void if the Americans suddenly leave Iraq.

“Things may develop faster than we imagine,” Ayman al-Zawahri wrote in a letter to his top deputy in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. “The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam – and how they ran and left their agents – is noteworthy. – We must be ready starting now.”

In a wide-ranging letter spanning more than 12 typed pages in the English translation, al-Zawahri also recommends a four-stage expansion of the war that would take the fighting to neighboring Muslim countries.

“It has always been my belief that the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established – in the heart of the Islamic world,” al-Zawahri writes.

The letter lays out his long-term plan: expel the Americans from Iraq, establish an Islamic authority and take the war to Iraq’s secular neighbors, including Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.



Insurgents ambush Afghan police convoy

Suspected Taliban rebels ambushed a police convoy traveling on a mountain road in southern Afghanistan, killing 19 officers in the deadliest attack ever on the fledgling police force, officials said yesterday.

Five other officers were missing and feared dead or kidnapped after the attack late Monday on the convoy of 150 police as they drove on a dirt road along the side of a mountain in Helmand province, Interior Ministry spokesman Yusuf Stanikzai said.

Dozens of insurgents opened fire on the convoy, sparking a gunbattle that lasted until early yesterday, when the militants fled into the mountains, he said.

Among the 19 dead was Helmand’s deputy police chief, Stanikzai said. Four police officers were wounded and four police vehicles were destroyed, he said.



Frist held stock in family’s hospital chain

Outside the blind trusts he created to avoid a conflict of interest, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist earned tens of thousands of dollars from stock in a family-founded hospital chain largely controlled by his brother, documents show.

The Tennessee Republican, whose sale this summer of HCA Inc. stock is under federal investigation, has long maintained he could own HCA shares and still vote on health care legislation without a conflict because he had placed the stock in blind trusts approved by the Senate.

However, ethics experts say a partnership arrangement shown in documents obtained by The Associated Press raises serious doubts about whether the senator truly avoided a conflict.


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