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Iraq's National Assembly Sets New Deadline for Constitution

Iraq's National Assembly has agreed to extend the deadline for a draft constitution, after Iraqi leaders failed to agree on a charter. Iraqi lawmakers had to hastily amend an article in the existing interim law to allow for the extension.

Shortly before midnight, the Iraqi National Assembly voted unanimously to amend Article Three in the interim law, allowing an extension to produce a draft constitution.

Lawmakers, then agreed to extend the deadline by seven days to August 22.

Iraq's Planning Minister, Barham Saleh, insisted that the inability of Iraqis to submit a charter on Monday should not be considered as a setback to the country's political process.

"I want to look upon it as a sign of our seriousness about the future," said Mr. Saleh. "We're talking. We're having a dialogue. We have very serious issues to contend with. None of these things should be taken lightly."

On Monday, Shi'ite, Kurdish, and Sunni Arab leaders were locked in day-long efforts to reach a consensus on a host of issues. By the end of the day, they had reportedly reached a tentative deal on most of the issues. But American sources close to the talks say Shi'ites, Kurds, and Sunnis remained divided on two key points.

The secular Kurds oppose Shi'ite demands that Islam be considered the main source of law in the country. Shi'ites and Sunnis reject Kurdish demands to enshrine their right to declare independence in the autonomous Kurdish region.

The Kurds have suggested language giving them eight years to remain as a federal state of Iraq and after that, the right to secede. The Shi'ites support the idea of creating a Kurdish-like autonomous zone in the south of the country for Shi'ites, but they say that the Kurds should decide now whether they want to remain as part of Iraq. Sunnis firmly reject the concept of federalism altogether, arguing that it would lead to the breakup of the country.

If no agreement on a constitution can be reached in seven days the Iraqi government and National Assembly will have to be dissolved and elections called to form a new governing body.

If there is an agreement, Iraqis will go to the polls on October 15 to accept or reject the charter. If approved in a referendum, national elections can then be held on December 15 to elect a new, permanent government.