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Insurgents Kill Three Members of Iraqi Constitutional Committee

In Iraq, three Sunni Arab members of a team drafting the country's constitution, were shot and killed Tuesday in Baghdad. The deaths could deal a blow to Iraqi hopes of having a constitution drafted before an August 15 deadline.

A busy street in Baghdad's Karrada district was buzzing with the usual noon-time traffic Tuesday when gunfire erupted.

A witness, Ahmed Ali, says he was eating lunch in a restaurant when he heard the gunshots. Mr. Ali says he looked outside and saw a blue car, riddled with bullets, in the middle of the road. He says several men covered in blood were sprawled inside the vehicle.

Another witness, Mohammed Radhi Alwan, says he was on duty, guarding a nearby shop, when the attack occurred. Mr. Alwan says he noticed that a blue car was being closely followed by another car full of men. The guard says he did not think anything of it until the second car suddenly switched lanes, drove alongside the blue car, and opened fire.

According to Saleh Mutlak, a spokesman for the Sunni political group, called the Iraqi National Dialogue Council, the three slain men were Mijbil Issa, Dhamin Hussein, and Aziz Ibrahim. All three men represented the Sunni umbrella group on the 71-member committee that is drafting the country's constitution. Mr. Issa and Mr. Hussein were full committee members while Mr. Ibrahim served as an advisor.

The two Sunni committee members, along with 13 other Sunni Arabs, joined the mostly Shi'ite and Kurdish committee last month, as part of a government effort to include Sunnis in Iraq's political process and to end the two-year-old Sunni-led insurgency.

Since their appointment, two Sunni members have quit because of threats from Sunni militants, who oppose the new Shi'ite-led government. Tuesday's victims were the first members of the committee to be killed.

The shootings came hours after Iraqi President Jalal Talabani predicted that the draft constitution could be finished by the end of the month, well ahead of its August 15 deadline. Mr. Talabani, a Kurd, said that his prediction was based on the hope that the committee could address Sunni concerns on several thorny issues.

Mr. Mutlak of the Iraqi National Dialogue says Sunnis on the committee are now likely to request for a few days suspension to mourn their slain colleagues and to investigate the murders.

According to existing laws, the constitution should be written by August 15, but committee members have the right to request a six-month extension.

U.S. and Iraqi officials oppose extending the deadline, arguing that a delay would provide more opportunities for militants to try to derail the political process.