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Iraq's parliament approves new constitution

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Iraq's National Assembly gave final approval Sunday to the nation's new constitution and the United Nations began printing 5 million copies of it immediately for voters to study before they vote on it in an Oct. 15 referendum.

Assembly members spent weeks wrangling over the constitution, even after they had said they were finished with it, but in the last few days, they finessed three areas that had stymied final approval. The final version would create two deputy prime ministers; give the central government control over the country's water resources; and, in deference to the Arab League, mentioned Iraq's role in the creation of that organization.

U.N. officials here said they hope to print a half-million copies a day, at a cost of about $2 million.

Shortly after voting to approve the changes, some lawmakers said the assembly should now focus on alleged rampant corruption under interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. A member of the Assembly's Integrity Committee, Hadi al-Amiri read from his committee's findings, saying there were millions of unaccounted dollars spent by the ministries of Defense, Interior, Transportation and Health.

Al-Amiri called corruption a bigger problem than terrorism, telling his colleagues: "Corruption does not only negatively affect reconstruction, but it also threatens the political system. And this might lead to a real disaster."

He said that besides the nearly billion dollars of alleged mismanaged funds in the Defense Ministry, the Ministry of Electricity paid an American company an extra $38 million on a contract, although it was unclear why. And he said that one Ministry of Interior contract exchanged Iraqi dinar to dollars at a too favorable rate, awarding $2.71 million in the inflated exchange.

Al-Amiri said afterward there was mismanagement in every ministry during much of 2004.

But it was unclear how committed the National Assembly will be to prosecute officials in those ministries. And al-Amiri did not explain how his committee produced its findings or the total amount of mismanaged money. Some current and former government officials have suggested that the assembly members are posturing for the December election for a new parliament.

Members also mourned the death of a colleague who was assassinated on his way to a meeting. Faris Nasir Hussein, a member of the Kurdish Alliance, his brother and their driver were traveling just north of Baghdad Saturday night when a group of gunmen attacked their convoy. All three men were killed. Another assemblyman riding with the men, Haider Qassim Shanoun, was wounded in the shooting.

Hussein was the third assembly member assassinated since the body was elected in January. The assembly held a moment of silence for him.

In other developments, 24 men were found shot to death, in what officials believe were retaliatory killings stemming from sectarian strife. Four of the men were discovered in Baghdad; the other 20 were found in Balad, about 50 miles south of the capital.

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondents Mohammed al Dulaimy and Alaa al Baldawy contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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