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Ulema link help with troop withdrawal: Drafting of constitution

February 06, 2005

BAGHDAD, Feb 5: Iraq's leading Sunni authority on Saturday said it would help to draft the country's new constitution under a timetable for foreign troops to leave, hinting it could then help to end the insurgency.

The Committee of Muslim Scholars said it was willing to assist with the new constitution provided a consensus was found on a fixed departure of the US-led foreign troops after talks with UN special envoy in Iraq, Ashraf Qazi.

"Qazi asked the committee to take part in drafting the constitution. We told him that we had conditions and that we would discuss them with the parties that boycotted the polls and would put forward a common stance," said spokesman Omar Ragheb.

"These demands focus on reaching a consensus with all political parties on a withdrawal of foreign forces," he added.

The organization, which opposed last Sunday's general elections, hinted that the influential grouping of religious figures could then weigh on guerillas to end attacks on occupation forces.

"Then, the country's elders will tell the resistance: 'No need to spill more blood'," Mr Ragheb said.

According to many observers, much of the success of the post-election period, during which parliament will have to draft a permanent constitution for the country, will depend on the level of involvement of the Sunni community.

Shias seek PREMIERSHIP: The Shia alliance expected to win a commanding victory in Iraq's election will insist one of its members is appointed the country's next prime minister, a senior official in the alliance said on Saturday.

"Shias want the prime ministership, we are insisting on it and will not give it up," Deputy Foreign Minister Hamed al Bayati said. Hamed Bayati is a senior official in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

"The United Iraqi Alliance list has some candidates. The names are not finally agreed on yet," he said.-Reuters