View Full Version : Iraqi Council Agrees on Terms of Interim Constitution

01 Mar 04,, 07:41
BAGHDAD, March 1 -- Iraqi political leaders agreed early Monday on the terms of an interim constitution that would provide broad protections for individual rights and strikes a compromise on the contentious issues of Kurdish autonomy and Islam's role in government.

The country's 25-member, U.S.-appointed Governing Council reached consensus on the 63rd and final article of the document at 4:20 a.m. local time, after more than 10 hours of almost nonstop negotiations mediated by the American administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, people involved in the meeting said.

"It's a historic document," said Faisal Istrabadi, one of the lead drafters and a senior aide to council member Adnan Pachachi. "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."

Attempts to draft the interim constitution had stalled over the past several days because of disputes about the role of Islam in forming legislation and the extent of autonomy that should be granted to ethnic Kurds. Conservative Shiite Muslim leaders had demanded that the document enshrine Islam as the principal foundation for legislation, a position opposed by Sunni Muslims, liberal Shiites and the council's sole Christian. Kurdish leaders insisted on the right to maintain their militia in northern Iraq, expand areas under Kurdish control and receive a proportional share of the country's oil revenue.

The final draft calls for Islam to be the official religion but to be only "a source" of legislation, Istrabadi said. In an apparent effort to placate conservative Shiites while providing protections against religious domination, the document states that legislation cannot be enacted during the transition that infringes upon the "universally agreed upon tenets of Islam," but also that legislation cannot contradict any of the rights stipulated in the bill of rights, Istrabadi said.

"No one has any intention of insulting Islam," he said. "Many of us who are deeply devout, but are liberal, are very pleased with the agreement we have worked with our brethren."

Shiite political leaders expressed support for the compromise wording. "I think we got a very good law. I think everyone was very happy in the end," said Entifadh Qanbar, a senior aide to council member Ahmed Chalabi, a liberal Shiite who has allied himself with more conservative Shiites in recent days.

"We're happy with the wording," he said. "We got what we wanted, which is that there should be no laws that are against Islam."

The document also sets aside 25 percent of the seats in the provisional legislature for women, he said. An initial draft called for women to be guaranteed 40 percent of the seats.

On the issue of Kurdish autonomy, it appeared that the Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of the country's population and have lived outside the control of Iraq's central government since 1991, received some, but not all, of what they had been demanding from the country's Arab majority.

The Kurds won the right to retain their pesh merga militia as a national guard force in an autonomous swath of northern Iraq administered by a Kurdish regional government. Arabs as well as U.S. officials had wanted the militia to be integrated into the country's new army or other security services.

But the Kurds did not get as much as they had hoped on other fronts. The document calls for the borders of the autonomous Kurdish region to remain static and subject to mediation by the interim government. Kurdish leaders had wanted the council to redraw the map of Kurdistan to include Kurdish-dominated areas that were annexed to neighboring provinces under Saddam Hussein's government.

Kurdish leaders also had demanded a proportional share of revenue from oil, much of which comes from reservoirs in land claimed by Kurds. In a compromise brokered with Shiite Arabs, whose territories in southern Iraq also include large oil fields, the document states that proceeds from the sale of natural resources will be dispersed in a way that takes into account the population in a given region, the extent of development there and whether -- as Hussein did with Shiite areas -- the former government targeted that region to keep it underdeveloped, council aides said.

"We are respecting Kurdish autonomy," Qanbar said. "The Kurdish state will continue to be part of a unified, federal Iraq."

Kurdish leaders could not be reached for comment. Officials with the U.S.-led occupation authority also could not be reached.

The council does not plan to release a final draft until after a Shiite Muslim holiday on Tuesday.

Initial attempts to agree on a draft did not go well. On Friday, several Shiite members walked out of the council after a vote to overturn a Shiite-sponsored resolution to make Islamic law, or sharia, the basis for resolving issues such as divorce and inheritance. Although some liberal Shiites joined almost all the council's Sunni members in opposing the resolution, conservative Shiite leaders were angered by they way the matter was handled, particularly by a decision to invite several women's activists into the chamber.

Shiite and Sunni members held separate meetings on Friday night, Saturday and even on Sunday. After spending Sunday morning meeting in small caucuses, the council gathered as a full group at 6 p.m.

"It required a lot of effort and hard work," Qanbar said. "Everyone had to explain his point of view in a manner that was transparent and honest. That's how people began to agree with each other."

01 Mar 04,, 22:03
Anybody seen a translation of their Constitution yet?