Iraqis sign interim constitution

Posted 5:00pm March 16

by Melissa Kronfeld
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

After forcing its near collapse last Friday, the five member Shiite Muslim faction that had delayed the signing of an Iraqi interim constitution agreed to lend their signatures Monday without any changes to the document.

Governing council President Mohammed Bahrululum declared, “Here we are today standing in a historical moment to lay the strong foundation for rebuilding a new Iraq. A new, free, democratic Iraq that protects the dignity of the human being and protects human rights.”

Soon after the Iraqi Governing Council finished with the ceremony, seven rockets exploded, one just a block away from where the Council had convened. Five of the seven rockets struck the al-Rashid hotel, where a United States “Green Zone” has been established for American officials. One civilian was reported injured.

The long repressed Shiites of Iraq withdrew their support Friday at the last minute, citing discontent with certain provisions. The Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, of the Holy city of Najaf, was the leading voice of unease, stating “Any law prepared for the transitional period will not have legitimacy until it is approved by the elected national assembly.”

The holy leader rejected provisions granting the ethnic Kurdish population, also a long repressed group, the power to veto a drafted permanent constitution. The Ayatollah believed that the Kurds, comprising 20 percent of the population, would have too much power in the final decision making process. He also rejected a provision establishing a single president in a transitional administration for fear of overly centralizing authority.

Although the religious group signed the Transitional Administrative Law, a statement of Shiite criticism from within the group was released directly after the ceremony, criticizing the top clerics for supporting the agreement. The U.S.-backed law, which enshrines the democratic principles of self-government and the protection of individual rights, is drenched in clearly visible U.S. ideological rhetoric. Its Fundamental Principles and Bill of Rights are completely American in range and scope. The Law will remain in effect until an elected assembly agrees on a permanent charter and a referendum of the Iraqi people is held. These elections are scheduled for January 2005 and will bring together 275 delegates to draft a formal constitution and elect a president and two deputies who will be responsible for formulating a Cabinet and a Prime Minister to lead it.

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