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Iraqi Council Approves Interim Constitution

BY Admin  March 1, 2004 at 1:56 PM EST

The charter — a key step in Washington’s plans to return power to Iraqis by June 30 — provides a legal framework for the country’s caretaker government until elections are held no later than Jan. 31, 2005, for a provisional assembly. That assembly will then draft and ratify a permanent constitution and prepare for elections by the end of 2005.

After days of disputes and delays, the 25 members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council reached consensus at 4:20 a.m. local time Monday after intense negotiations mediated by American administrator of Iraq Paul Bremer, The Washington Post reported.

The document includes broad protections for individual rights and guarantees freedom of speech, assembly and religion, and other civil liberties long denied by the Baath Party government of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. In an unprecedented move toward gender equality in Arab nations, the document allocates 25 percent of the seats in the provisional legislature for women, council aides said.

The charter also outlines the shape of an executive branch, consisting of a president with two deputies who would choose a prime minister and Cabinet.

“It’s a historic document,” Faisal Istrabadi, one of the lead authors and a senior aide to council member Adnan Pachachi, told the Post. “Every single article, and each subparagraph, had the consensus of all 25 people in the room. … In the best tradition of democracies — granted, we are an aspiring democracy — we all compromised.”

The council had missed a Feb. 28 deadline to complete the interim constitution due to heated debate over the role of Islam, the representation of women in the new Iraqi government and Kurdish demands for greater autonomy. After marathon talks organized by Bremer, however, the council put aside many of its differences to forge a consensus on the terms of the temporary charter.

Salem Chalabi, a representative from the Iraqi National Congress, told the Associated Press Monday morning: “It was a very emotional moment. We established a bill of rights like no other in the region. It was quite a remarkable thing.

“Compromises were made. Not everybody got what they wanted,” but “everybody was happy,” Chalabi added.

For example, the new law called Islam as a single source, but not the primary one, for implementation of civil law, as Iraq’s conservative Shiite community had initially demanded. The document also declared Islam as the country’s official religion.

“I think we got a very good law,” said Entifadh Qanbar, a senior aide to council member Ahmed Chalabi, a liberal Shiite who has recently allied himself with more conservative Shiites.

“We’re happy with the wording,” Qanbar said. “We got what we wanted, which is that there should be no laws that are against Islam.”

On the issue of Kurdish autonomy, the Kurds won the right to retain their “peshmerga” militia as a national guard force in an autonomous region in northern Iraq administered by a Kurdish regional government. Iraqi Arabs had wanted the Kurdish militia to be integrated into the country’s new army or other security services.

Bremer must now ratify the interim constitution. He expressed satisfaction with the final draft and said he would approve it by Wednesday, council aides told the AP.

Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington, D.C. welcomed the deal.

“This is a major achievement, only a day late, which I think is terrific,” said Powell, adding he was confident Bremer would approve the document.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the pact as a “significant foundation stone,” his spokesman said.

The temporary constitution, formally known as the Transitional Administrative Law, did not specify the type of interim government Iraq will have when the U.S.-led civil occupation ends on June 30.

Iraqi political leaders must now focus on how to establish an interim government that will take power from the U.S.-led occupation authority June 30 until new elections are held.