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20 Iraqis die in attacks north of Baghdad
Updated: 2005-09-03 21:40

Insurgents launched a series of assaults Saturday in a province north of Baghdad, killing at least 20 Iraqi security forces, officials said. U.S. and Iraq troops clashed with insurgents near the northern city of Tal Afar.

Mohammed Ziyad reacts outside a hospital after carrying bodies of his brother Hameed and His father Ziyad Tariq who were killed, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2005, in Samarra, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad. Four civilians were killed and 11 injured when three mortar shells fired at a U.S. installation missed the target and landed in a residential area, police said. [AP]

Nine policemen died in a pair of shootouts in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, officials said. Six policemen and two soldiers were killed in another gunbattle in Buhriz, a suburb of Baqouba, officials said.

Three Iraqi soldiers also died Saturday when their convoy was attacked by gunmen near Adhaim, 30 miles north of Baqouba, police Col. Abdullah Qadir said.

The attacks occurred in Diyala province, a religiously and ethnically mixed area with a Sunni majority.

Elsewhere, Iraqi civilians reported fighting late Friday in the outskirts of Tal Afar, an ethnically mixed insurgent stronghold 260 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Hospital officials said they were unsure of casualties because it was too dangerous for ambulances to reach the area. U.S. armored vehicles could be seen in the hills outside the city, the Iraqis said.

Iraqi police clashed with insurgents late Friday at the Tal Afar bus station after receiving reports that insurgents were storing weapons there, Iraqi Brig. Gen. Said Ahmed al-Jibouri said. One insurgent was killed and six others were arrested.

In Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, four civilians were killed and 11 injured when three mortar shells fired at a U.S. installation missed the target and landed in a residential area, police said.

Elsewhere, gunmen abducted three Iraqi contractors after they left the U.S.-run Taji air base some 10 miles north of Baghdad, police Lt. Miqdad al-Khazragi said.

The violence occurred as discreet talks were under way to refine language in the draft constitution to ease Sunni Arab hostility and mollify Iraq's Arab neighbors who fear the charter will loosen the country's ties to the Arab world, officials said.

U.S. and Iraqi officials had hoped that a new constitution, finalized last month after weeks of intense negotiations, would help bring Iraq's factions together and in time lure Sunni Arabs away from the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

However, the bitter talks appeared instead to sharpen communal tensions, at a time when both Sunnis and Shiites accused extremists from the other community of killing their civilians.

In Kufa, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr suggested that sectarian war may already have begun in Iraq.

"We condemn the view that the (U.S.-led) occupation's existence is beneficial for the Iraqi people because if it ended, there would be sectarian war — as if sectarian war has not already begun," al-Sadr said in a sermon Friday.

Although talks on substantive issues have ended, contacts are continuing to tinker with language in hopes of making the document more palatable to the Sunnis in the Oct. 15 referendum.

"Discussions are under way to make minor changes in the language to improve the text to satisfy some parties," Shiite negotiator Khalid al-Attiyah said Saturday.

Sunni Arab and Kurdish negotiators confirmed ongoing talks, but a Western diplomat cautioned against speculation of dramatic changes.

"We don't have the specifics of what is being negotiated, but we know they are discussing language changes and slight modifications that would bring the sides closer," the diplomat said. He declined to be identified because he was not authorized to comment on the process.

The goal of the ongoing talks is to produce a document that may not win public approval by Sunni negotiators but could appeal to enough moderate Sunnis that the charter would win the October referendum.

If two-thirds of the voters in any three of the 18 provinces reject the charter, it would be defeated. Sunnis form the majority in four provinces, although they comprise only 20 percent of Iraq's population of 27 million and their margin in two of those provinces is not overwhelming.

Iraq's Arab neighbors also have been distressed by language in the draft identifying Iraq as an Islamic — not Arab — nation. Arab League diplomats said they were concerned about language that would appear to weaken Iraq's ties to the Arab world.

The wording was a concession to the non-Arab Kurds, but one Kurdish official said the Kurds were willing to show some flexibility.

"Yes, probably some words will be changed here and there, and this issue is under discussion, especially the Iraqi identity," Kurdish negotiator Mahmoud Othman said. "We are discussing this article aiming at achieving an aspiration of the Arab League as well as to satisfy some parties."

Othman acknowledged a "campaign conducted by the Arabs on us regarding this issue" but said the Kurds "wouldn't mind any new change."

For the Sunnis, however, the biggest obstacle was the article paving the way for creation of federated states, the chief demand of the Kurds to protect their 14-year-old self-ruled area in the north.

Sunnis fear establishment of a Shiite federated state would deprive them of oil wealth from the south, open the door to Iranian influence and lead to the disintegration of the state.

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