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Rice Calls Iraqi Constitution an Example of 'Democracy at Work’


The Iraqi parliament has agreed to a one-week extension for its leaders to complete a draft constitution. Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish lawmaker remained divided on several key issues, and missed a Monday deadline for completing the document.

Bloody bombings, shattered lives. Day after day, the insurgency, led by Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, claims more victims. U.S. President George W. Bush has said political reform is critical to bring stability to Iraq.

Despite U.S. pressure to stick to a timetable for a new constitution, Iraqi leaders announced Monday they could not meet a midnight deadline to complete a draft. Moments before the clock ran out, they extended the deadline by seven days -- a disappointment for the Bush administration.

But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called it an example of democracy at work, and said the Iraqis had generated momentum, even though they didn't finish.

"This is an enormously important document,” said the secretary, “and what you have here is people who are trying to build a common future after decades of tyranny."

In recent negotiations, Iraq's majority Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis could not resolve several contentious issues. Among them, the question of federalism -- Shiites and Kurds favor greater independence for regional states they would control. Sunnis have rejected that concept.

Dr. Rice says she thinks it's a good sign that the Iraqi government has taken steps to involve the minority. "The Sunnis did not fully participate in the elections for a number of reasons; were, therefore, not very represented in the Transitional National Assembly. They [the Assembly] went out of their way, nonetheless, to have a government that was inclusive of Sunnis. They then went out of their way to have a constitutional process that was more inclusive of Sunnis."

A second sticking point in the constitution -- the role of Islam, whether it should be the main source of law, and what impact that could have on women's rights. The U.S. has taken a firm position on women's issues.

"I think we've been very clear that a modern Iraq will be an Iraq in which women are recognized as full and equal citizens,” said Secretary Rice. “And I have every confidence that that is how Iraqis feel."

In a statement, President Bush said he applauds what he called the Iraqi negotiators' heroic efforts to solve their differences peacefully.

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