BAGHDAD, Aug 4: Iraqi leaders prepared on Thursday for a conference to try to break the deadlock on a draft constitution amid unabated violence that left at least 20 people dead, a day after 15 US marines were killed by rebels. US President George W. Bush insisted his troops would remain in Iraq until their mission is accomplished, despite the military losses, even as Wednesday’s attack on marines marked one of the deadliest against US forces since the war.

“The violence in recent days in Iraq is a grim reminder of the enemies we face,” Bush said in a speech in the small Texas town of Grapevine. Fourteen marines were killed near the northwestern town of Haditha on Wednesday in a roadside bombing, while another died in Ramadi, a restive town west of Baghdad.

At least 39 US troops have died in the last 10 days in one of the deadliest anti-United States bouts since the March 2003 invasion. Iraq was preparing for Friday’s national conference on the constitution, ahead of an August 15 deadline for a draft of the charter to be submitted to parliament.

“All the top leaders will take part,” Mahmud Othman, a Kurdish member of the committee drafting the constitution, told AFP. “They will try to find solutions to the problems still outstanding.”

But he added: “It’s going to be a really difficult task.”

Unresolved issues include “federalism, official languages, the relation between religion and state, the name of the republic, the rights of women and the question of Kirkuk,” the oil-rich northern province which Kurds want included in their own autonomous region, Othman said.—AFP

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