BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraqis are unlikely to adopt a new constitution within six months, as proposed by Secretary of State Colin Powell, a spokesman for the president of the Iraqi Governing Council said today.
A U.S. convoy, meanwhile, came under attack on a bridge in northern Baghdad, and one soldier was slightly injured when an explosive was thrown or fired from a passing car, witnesses said.
In western Baghdad, one American soldier drowned and another was missing after a vehicle overturned in a canal Monday night as troops were responding to a reported mortar attack, the U.S. Central Command said.
Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman for Ahmad Chalabi, who currently holds the council's rotating presidency, said that although everyone wants to see a new constitution "as soon as possible," it would take time for Iraqis to "coalesce" on the framework for a new, democratic Iraq.
There also had to be "adequate time" for Iraqis to discuss and understand any proposed constitution before holding a referendum, Qanbar said.
Powell laid down a six-month timetable last week amid mounting international pressure for a handover of power in Iraq. Powell said the United States won't relinquish power until a democratically elected Iraqi government is in place.
"I don't think six months will be sufficient, but we must wait and see," Qanbar said. "This is up to the constitutional committee and the events. A lot of times deadlines do not necessarily stay as is, and reality drives what's happening."
A 25-member committee has been discussing how to draft a new constitution for weeks. However, major issues such as the role of Islam and power relationships among the major ethnic and culture groups have complicated the discussions.
With France leading pressure for a speedy handover of power, Washington has insisted it does not want to be too hasty in the transfer.
Also today, U.S. authorities relaxed a nighttime curfew in Baghdad, citing improvements in security and a recent reduction in crime. The military said that effective immediately, the curfew would run from midnight until 4 a.m. Previously, the curfew had begun at 11 p.m.
Despite the relaxation, attacks on U.S. troops continued.
Witnesses said the explosive that injured the American soldier appeared to have been thrown or shot from a passing vehicle on a bridge over the Beirut Square traffic circle in the city's Nile neighborhood. It was the first such attack reported in the quiet residential and commercial neighborhood.
In Samara, 60 miles north of Baghdad, resistance fighters fired two rocket-propelled grenades at an American patrol Monday night but missed, U.S. officials reported.
The Americans returned fire, killing one assailant and wounding four. The soldiers tracked the assailants into a nearby house, where 11 people were arrested and two rifles and one grenade were seized, according to Maj. Josslyn Aberle, spokeswoman of the 4th Infantry Division.
The soldier who drowned in the western Baghdad accident was from the 800th Military Police Brigade, a Central Command statement said. Two others who were in the vehicle swam to safety. A dive team soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division failed to resurface during the rescue attempt and is missing, the statement said.
Elsewhere, a homemade bomb exploded early today at the governor's office in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, but no one was injured, U.S. officials reported. Two people were arrested for allegedly planting the device.
The Iraqi Governing Council said it would study the reinstatement of members of Saddam's Baath Party to their jobs.
The council said ministries would form committees examine whether employees who once belonged to the now-outlawed party should be given back their civil service jobs.
On Monday, Charles Heatley, spokesman for the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority, said there would not be an appeals mechanism for individuals who lost their jobs because they were party members.
Heatley said that while there was a "procedure for exemptions which could be considered on the basis of whether people are both essential to their jobs, and whether they did not, in fact, commit any crimes in their previous employment ... there've been very few cases of those exemptions granted."
On May 16, the top U.S. civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer, issued a decree barring top-ranking party members from any public position — whether in universities, hospitals or minor government posts.
Since then, ministries and government departments have seen a purging of dozens of Baathists.
During the party's 34-year-rule, as many as 1.5 million of Iraq's 24 million people were members. But only about 25,000 to 50,000 had full-fledged party positions — the elite targeted by U.S. officials.
The Baath Party was founded in neighboring Syria in 1943 and spread quickly across the Arab world, promoting Arab unity with a repressive, Soviet-style structure. It ruled Iraq for several months in 1963, and then took full control of the country in 1968. Through the years, though, it lost much of its original ideology and gradually became little more than a tool for Saddam's control.
The decision also said employees affected by the decree were now allowed to apply for "early retirement benefits."
In New York, a U.N. spokesman said more than 30 U.N. international staff pulled out of Iraq over the weekend after the U.N. chief ordered additional cutbacks due to security concerns, leaving just 50 foreign employees behind.
The number of U.N. workers in Iraq will fluctuate because "there will be some movements out, and there's going to be occasional movements back in," spokesman Fred Eckhard said Monday.
The United Nations had 300 international staff in Baghdad and another 300 elsewhere in Iraq before a car bomb on Aug. 19 killed 22 people at its headquarters in the capital. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan later ordered the number reduced to 42 in Baghdad and 44 in the north.
Despite the cutbacks, Eckhard said U.N. humanitarian work should be able to continue, with limited international supervision, using 4,233 Iraqis working for the world body.