Iraqi lawmakers tried to reach compromises with Sunni leaders in the country's draft constitution, one day after synchronized bombings near at a bus station and nearby hospital killed up to 43 people in the capital.
Four U.S. soldiers were killed Thursday in a roadside bombing north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. The explosion occurred in the tense, religiously mixed city of Samarra, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of the capital, The AP reported.
Government officials said Thursday that the bombings - two believed to have been suicide attacks and the third a stationary car bomb - were an attempt to target Shiites and stoke civil war between religious groups in the country.
"They targeted an area that has a population of people from southern Shiite provinces, and their message was that their government is unable to protect you from us," government spokesman Laith Kubba said. "They want a reaction against Sunnis to therefore deepen the sectarian crisis in the country."
Kubba said flyers had recently been handed out in some Baghdad neighborhoods threatening Shiites if they did not leave the city. At least one person, a Sunni Arab woman married to a Shiite, had been killed after the threats, he said.
Kubba also said four suspects arrested on suspicion of being involved in the attack the prior day had been released after questioning.
Talks on the draft constitution resumed Thursday as five Sunni Arabs on the drafting committee met with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and discussed points of disagreement such as federalism, according to a statement released by al-Jaafari's office. The Sunnis gave al-Jaafari a list of unresolved issues, the statement added.
Before the meeting one Sunni said he was confident that leaders could finish the document by the new deadline, but warned that serious issues needed to be addressed.
"I expect that the constitution would be finished before Monday. Negotiations are still underway and everybody are determined to finish it before the deadline," said Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni member of the constitutional committee.
However, al-Mutlaq warned that serious differences remain.
"I believe that there are some groups that have taken more than they deserve and want to pass the constitution quickly," he said. "In order for this constitution to work, these groups that have taken more than what they deserve must abandon some of their demands."
Sunni members were also scheduled to meet the U.S. and British ambassadors later in the day, al-Mutlaq said. He accused U.S. officials of rushing the drafting process.
"Americans are more concerned about the sacred deadlines rather than the contents of the constitution," he said.
On Wednesday, the country's largest Sunni political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, issued a blistering attack on the drafting committee, accusing it of bias and incompetence. The party said major differences remained on the same issues that blocked a deal last week.
Lawmakers said the unresolved differences included federalism, the role of the Shiite clergy and the distribution of Iraq's vast oil wealth. The Sunnis also want the new constitution to affirm the country's Arab and Islamic identity and that Islam be declared a main source in legislation.
Once the draft is approved by parliament, it will be submitted to the voters in a referendum Oct. 15. If two-thirds of the voters in three of the 18 provinces reject the constitution, it will be defeated. Sunnis form the majority in at least four provinces.
Elsewhere, a judge on a war crimes tribunal denied claims that Tariq Aziz, a former deputy prime minister in Saddam Hussein's government, would be released.
"There is nothing like that from our side," said Judge Raid Juhi of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, denying claims by Aziz's lawyer that his client could be released because of legal missteps.
Under Iraqi law, formal charges are not laid until a preliminary investigation has been completed. Suspects can be held while the investigation is continuing.
Violence continued Thursday.
Insurgents threw a hand grenade at an Iraqi patrol in central Fallujah, wounding two troops, police 1st Lt. Jassim Ouwaid said. The attack came one day after a car bombing killed three people in the city that was once an insurgent stronghold before a U.S. offensive retook the city in November of last year.
In the capital, an Iraqi judge and his driver were killed Thursday by gunmen, police said. Police found an unidentified corpse in the southern neighborhood in Dora, Dr. Muhanad Jawad of the Yarmouk hospital said.
In the central city of Baqouba, gunmen killed a former Iraqi Army colonel and his son in an ambush late Wednesday, police said. One of the colonel's sons was also kidnapped in the ambush, police said.
An officer in the Interior Ministry was killed by gunmen late Wednesday in Baghdad, police 1st Lt. Mautaz Salahden said.
In the northern city of Mosul, two policeman and a civilian were killed by insurgents Thursday, police 1st Lt. Ahmed Khalil was quoted by The AP as saying.