Iraq Council Agrees on Interim Constitution
Monday, March 1, 2004; 7:10 AM
By Joseph Logan
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council
put aside its differences Monday and agreed an interim
constitution, a pillar of Washington's plan to hand sovereignty
back to Iraqis by June 30.
"Early this morning the Governing Council unanimously
approved the Transitional Administrative Law after weeks of
intensive discussions," the Council said in a statement. The
document will be officially signed Wednesday.
Agreement was finally reached at 4:20 a.m. (0120 GMT). The
25-member Council had missed a February 28 deadline to strike a
deal because of divisions over the role of Islam, quotas for
women in government and Kurdish demands for autonomy.
Officials and participants in the talks said the law
recognized Islam as Iraq's official religion and said it would
be a source of legislation but not the primary source, as had
been demanded by many in Iraq's 60 percent Shi'ite majority.
A senior coalition official said the compromise "strikes
the right balance" between the Islamic identity of most Iraqis
and the need to enshrine freedom of religion and freedom of
speech, which are protected by a bill of rights in the
"The language on Islam and the state effectively says that
this won't compromise individual rights or democratic
principles," the official said.
ELECTIONS BY EARLY 2005
The document says elections should be held by late 2004 or
early 2005. Washington's initial plan was for elections by the
end of 2005 but Iraq's most revered Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah
Ali al-Sistani, demanded polls be held sooner.
Sistani initially said the provisional sovereign government
due to take power on June 30 should be directly elected, but
after a U.N. team ruled this was not feasible, he softened his
stance and said elections must be held by the end of 2004.
With U.S. presidential elections nearing, President Bush's
administration says it is determined to stick to plans to hand
sovereignty back to Iraqis on June 30. But the mechanism for
selecting the provisional government has yet to be agreed.
Hamid al-Bayati of the Supreme Council for the Islamic
Revolution in Iraq, one of the main Shi'ite political groups,
said the document ensured "there can't be any law passed that
is not in keeping with Islam," and that it met Sistani's
"This is what Ayatollah Sistani wanted to see in the
interim constitution, so yes, what has been agreed is OK,
although not everyone is fully and completely with what was in
there," he said. "This is a process in which people had to back
off some of the things they wanted."
Another controversial issue had been whether there should
be guarantees about the representation of women. The senior
coalition official said the document ensured 25 percent of
seats for women in a forthcoming legislative assembly.
The interim constitution's backing for a federal state also
recognizes the northern zone Kurds have run since wresting it
from Baghdad's hands after the 1991 Gulf War, one element of a
bid for autonomy that some Arabs fear will split Iraq.
Rowsch Shways, who represented Kurdish Council member
Massoud Barzani in the talks, said the language on federalism
met Kurds' demands that their "peshmerga" militias remain as a
Kurdistan national guard rather than as part of a national
The document leaves until a permanent constitution the
status of areas which Kurds argue belong to the Kurdish north
and were gerrymandered into neighboring provinces by Saddam
Hussein's government under a form of ethnic cleansing.
During discussions Friday, several Shi'ite members of the
Council walked out, angered when women invited to the session
applauded the cancellation of a previous ruling that would have
made divorce and inheritance subject to religious law.
Bayati said Kurdish council member Jalal Talabani had
negotiated a compromise on that issue under that included an
apology to those who walked out and an agreement to postpone
canceling the Council's earlier decree.
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