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Iraqi Violence Continues as Constitution Approval Stalls

As Iraqi lawmakers struggled unsuccessfully to reach an agreement on their new constitution Thursday, violence continued unabated in several parts of the country. Gunmen made an attempt on the president's life, and 36 dead bodies were found south of Baghdad.

Iraqi police say they found the bodies of 36 men in a shallow river south of Baghdad, near a road leading to the Iranian border. It is not clear who the men were, but police say each had been killed by a single shot to the head.

In northern Iraq, gunmen shot up the motorcade belonging to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, killing several of his bodyguards. But the president was not in any of the cars at the time. The attack occurred about 90 kilometers south of Kirkuk, on the road leading to Baghdad from the Kurdish-controlled north.

Earlier, Mr. Talabani was among the Iraqi officials pleading for calm during two days of clashes between rival Shi'ite militias that engulfed several southern Iraqi cities and a poor neighborhood in Baghdad.

The unrest began Wednesday after a group of armed men raided the newly reopened office of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, in the holy city of Najaf. Mr. al-Sadr's milita, the Mehdi Army, blamed the attack on the Badr Organization, a militia loyal to the country's largest Shia political party, but the party's leader has denied that.

Regardless of who staged the original raid, fighting between the two groups rapidly spread to other cities. In several places, angry Shi'ites torched party offices.

The violence abated Thursday after Mr. al-Sadr called on his followers to stop the bloodshed and return to their homes. He calls on "the pious" to refrain from attacking other Iraqis, and to avoid "being swept up in plots of the West aimed at dividing Muslims."

The clashes between Shi'ite militias came as lawmakers in Baghdad were trying and failing to agree on the country's new constitution. The government had originally planned to have the draft document adopted by parliament Thursday, but the vote was put off indefinitely.

Sunni Arab leaders and the Shi'ite radical, Mr. al-Sadr, have rejected the draft constitution and the federal system it espouses. But reports from Baghdad indicate that rather than try to defeat the draft in parliament, they may be saving their energy to fight the constitution in the provinces, where it needs approval by at least 16 of Iraq's 18 administrative regions.