http://news.yahoo.com/fc/world/iraqTIKRIT, Iraq - The Iraqi government on Saturday announced plans to clamp down with security measures including a curfew, weapons ban and a closure of the borders ahead of next week's constitutional referendum as Sunni Arabs geared up their campaign against the charter.
The military also said two U.S. Army soldiers died of wounds sustained Friday during the River Gate offensive in western Iraq, bringing to eight the number of American service members killed in recent operations aimed at clearing the volatile area of militants.
With their deaths, at least 1,952 U.S. service members have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Politicians in Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit, passed out copies of the constitution and urged followers to vote "no," while the main Sunni political factions were holding a meeting in Baghdad, apparently to organize their efforts to defeat the charter at the polls.
A delegation from the Arab League arrived in Iraq on Saturday to get a firsthand look at the tensions ahead of a proposed Iraqi "national reconciliation" conference. It was the first time the organization has tried to take a direct role in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
"The situation is so tense there is a threat looming in the air about civil war that could erupt at any moment, although some people would say that it is already there," Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told British Broadcasting Corp. radio in an interview Saturday.
"There is a policy to provoke and push communities against each other," Moussa said. "It is our policy in the Arab League that the time has come for us to talk seriously about bringing them together."
But the league has received a cold reception from some Shiite leaders, resentful over perceived Arab League inaction over Saddam's regime and what they see as the overwhelmingly Sunni league's bias in favor of Iraq's Sunnis, who were dominant under Saddam.
Sunni-led insurgents have vowed to wreck the referendum, launching a wave of attacks that has killed more than 305 people the past two weeks. Two Iraqis were killed and 12 wounded in a series of roadside bombs and drive-by shootings nationwide on Saturday.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr announced security measures similar to those imposed during January parliamentary elections.
"We will protect those who say yes and those who say no," Jabr told reporters in Baghdad. "We have countermeasures against all terrorist actions, and you will see tens of thousands of Iraqi security forces deployed in Baghdad and the provinces."
Starting Thursday, a four-day public holiday will be declared, with a nightly curfew the same days as well as a ban on carrying weapons — even licensed ones — in public.
Movement between provinces will be banned starting Friday. International borders, airports and ports also will be closed, but Jabr did not say when that step would begin. On the day of the vote, movement by car will be barred — a measure to prevent suicide attacks.
Sunni Arab moderates are pushing followers to vote against the constitution, saying it will fragment Iraq into Shiite and Kurdish mini-states, leaving the minority weak and poor in a central zone. Shiites and Kurds largely support the document, but Sunnis can defeat it if they garner a two-thirds "no" vote in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces.
In Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party distributed about 150 copies of the constitution after prayers at the city's main mosque, urging worshippers to reject it.
"We brought copies of the constitution here from Baghdad so that you could see it and know the reasons that our party is calling on Sunnis to vote 'no,'" Tal'at Dawoud, a senior local party official, said after evening prayers on Friday, the Muslim day of worship.
Shiite-run private television stations also were touting the document.
But most Iraqis were still waiting for copies of the constitution to read, with distribution getting off to a slow start outside the capital.
The military said 50 insurgents were killed in the Iron Fist offensive that ended Thursday. The operation, launched Oct. 1 in towns near the Syrian border, was the first in a series of major offensives in the past week in the heartland of the Sunni-led insurgency.
U.S. forces have swept through the area before — most recently in May — but militants have always returned and the military said they will leave a long-term presence there this time.
The military has said it will wrap up the operations in time for Sunni Arabs in the region to vote in the referendum.
Two other U.S. and Iraqi offensives — River Gate and Mountaineers — were still under way in the province of Anbar. A third, Operation Saratoga, recently began in northern Iraq.
The two U.S. soldiers killed Friday were assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), and were hit by small arms fire during the River Gate offensive near Haqlaniyah, the military said.
Previously, six other U.S. service members were killed in the Iron Fist and River Gate operations — including two Marines hit Thursday by a roadside bomb outside Qaim.
Away from the offensives, a roadside blast Thursday killed four Marines outside Fallujah.
In the latest violence, insurgents killed Haj Abdul Bajid Ahmed Al-Jibori, a member of the local district council, in a drive-by shooting southwest of the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, police Brig. Sarhad Qader said.
West of Baghdad, a drive-by shooting killed police Capt. Haqi Ismael, who worked with the Ministry of Interior, said police Capt. Talib Thamir.
In other developments:
_Five Iraqi soldiers were wounded in a drive-by shooting on a highway near Hillah, police said.
_Gunmen opened fire on Iraqi policemen east of Mosul, wounding two, a doctor said.
_Two roadside bombs aimed at police and Iraqi army patrols in Baghdad wounded one civilian and four soldiers, police said.
_The governor of Basra province, Mohammed al-Waili said British forces are compromising security in the southern region by not conducting raids and arrests without coordinating them with Iraqi security forces.