Kurdish MP assassinated as constitution is finalised

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The Independent Online

The Kurdish MP Faris Hussein and three bodyguards were shot dead on Saturday as he travelled to Baghdad from the north. His fellow deputy, Haider Qassem, was wounded, said Peshro Saeed, the National Assembly spokesman.

The shooting, and a car bomb which killed 30 people in Baghdad on Saturday, rounded off a week of carnage which saw 250 people killed.

The Kurdish- and Shia-led government, backed by US and British forces, is facing a Sunni Arab insurgency aimed at bringing it down. The Pentagon has said it expected violence to rise before the constitutional referendum on 15 October.

The National Assembly approved a final text of the constitution yesterday, giving little time for the UN to print five million copies and distribute them nationwide ahead of the referendum. Hussain al-Shahristani, the deputy speaker of parliament, told reporters it was an absolute final draft of the text, which has been held up repeatedly by last-minute amendments.

"There is no way there will be any changes now," he said. " The draft is being submitted to the United Nations and will be presented to the Iraqi people soon."

The UN official in charge of printing the text, Nicholas Haysom, said his office could get it out on time even though it had come in so late. The first copies would be ready for distribution in about five days, he said. "We're pretty confident that we're going to be able to get it done," he added. "There's a lot of demand out there from civic groups, political offices and others to get copies of the draft constitution and see it distributed." All five million copies would be run off by the end of September.

Sunni Arabs, who dominated Iraq under ousted leader Saddam Hussein and for decades before him, fear the charter will formalise the loss of influence they have endured since he fell, and boost the autonomy of southern Shias in line with that already enjoyed by northern Kurds. Many Sunnis have said they will reject it. And Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, called last week for a war against Shias after an Iraqi-led, US-backed assault on the northern town of Tal Afar.

Baghdad and Washington say Tal Afar was a stronghold of "terrorists and foreign fighters", and have blamed Zarqawi for the bomb attacks and shootings across Baghdad last week.

Shia leaders led by the populist cleric Muqtada Sadr urged Sunnis to take a tough stand against radical militants in the face of Zarqawi's declaration of war against Shias. Mr Sadr's spokesman, Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji, said that the influential Sunni Muslim Clerics' Association should take more decisive action against those inciting civil war.

"We want them to issue a fatwa [religious edict] forbidding Muslims from joining these groups that deem others infidels," he said. " This will be crucial in ending terrorism." Tensions are also high ahead of the 19 October trial of Saddam on a single charge of mass killing in reprisal for an assassination attempt in 1982 ­ in Dujail, the village where Faris Hussein was shot.