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Iraqis agree on interim constitution

Members of the Iraqi Governing Council led by Adnan Pachachi, center. address the media after finishing an interim constitution.
Members of the Iraqi Governing Council led by Adnan Pachachi, center. address the media after finishing an interim constitution.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's Governing Council has agreed on an interim constitution and is expected to sign the document after the end of the Shiite feast Ashoura on Wednesday.

Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman for council member Ahmad Chalabi, said the meeting ended at 4:20 a.m. (8:20 p.m. ET) with "full agreement ... on each article."

He said the draft charter will recognize Islam as "a source of legislation" -- rather than "the" source as some officials had sought -- and that no law will be passed that violates the tenets of the Muslim religion.

The constitution is intended to govern the nation until an elected assembly can draft and make into law a permanent charter.

The agreement missed its Saturday deadline, but the handover of power to an Iraqi transitional government will still take place on June 30, according to various officials.

Earlier, council member Mowaffak al-Rubaie said the meticulous crafting of an appropriate document was more important than meeting the February 28 target date, set down by the political handover agreement in November.

"We are building a new Iraq and this needs to be done properly," Rubaie said, adding, "failure is not an option."

Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator, has to sign off on the draft. Among the tough issues in the session were the role of Islam and issues concerning the Kurds.

Bahram Saleh, the prime minister of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's region, said it is "an important night" and the negotiations reflect "an exciting moment in history."

The PUK is represented on the council by Jalal Talabani and Saleh sat in for him at the press conference.

"This is the very first time in the contemporary history of the Middle East that such a wide range of opinions are engaged in a serious discussion about the future of their country," Saleh said.

The draft law is seen as an unprecedented democratic blueprint for a permanent constitution with Western cornerstones, such as a bill of rights and civilian control of the military.

The transitional law is designed to expire after a permanent constitution is approved and elections are held sometime after the June 30 handover of power to Iraqis.

The United States and the Iraqi Governing Council are intent on adhering to the June 30 deadline and are now determining the appropriate Iraqi body to be handed power this summer.

Kurdish role

Earlier, Governing Council member Mahmud Othman, a long-term leader of the Kurdish National Struggle, told CNN about some of the progress already made.

"We have all agreed to a democratic Iraq. We have agreed to ballot boxes deciding everything, We have agreed that the people should chose everything. They've never said they wanted an Islamic law, Islamic state," Othman said.

The role of the Kurds and the Kurdish region was a top subject on the table.

Federalism is a key issue among Kurds, who have ruled an autonomous region in Iraq for many years and don't want to lose their status.

"The document explicitly states that Iraq will be governed through a federal system of government and refers to the Kurdistan regional government as the legitimate authority running the affairs of the Kurdistan region," Saleh said.

Othman broached the idea of a referendum asking residents in mixed ethnic areas to decide whether they want to be part of the Kurdish autonomous administration.

Some northern regions are indisputably Kurdish and others are ethnically mixed because of Saddam Hussein's forced Arabization policy.

Othman indicated that the Arabic-Kurdish language issue has been resolved, saying that both the two official languages in Iraq and the rest of the people have the right to study or their own languages in their local areas.

Turkmen protest

Nevertheless, it is unclear whether Kurdish will only be official in the north or throughout the country.

Speaking generally for Kurdish aspirations, Othman said: "It's better to have a deal and accept our (Kurdish) demands which are the minimum ones so that we could arrange the situation and Kurds will have an important role in re-establishing Iraq, because everybody is necessary for Iraq."

U.S. soldiers remove Turkmen protesters who chained themselves to barricades outside the Iraqi Governing Council office Saturday.
U.S. soldiers remove Turkmen protesters who chained themselves to barricades outside the Iraqi Governing Council office Saturday.

As for the Turkmens, initial proposals did not go over well for many of them who staged protests last week.

In a statement issued Saturday, the Turkmens said they have decided to go on a hunger strike to protest what they say are inequities in the process; most importantly, they are seeking official recognition as a national minority in the proposed interim constitution and feel they are being excluded.

Dozens of Turkmen people, some wrapped in chains and duct tape, staged a protest in Baghdad.

"The draft of the constitution shows superiority of some forces to achieve profits at the expense of the Turkmen people and the others of the Iraqi people," the statement said.

The Turkmens, ethnically close to Turks, live mostly in northern Iraq alongside Arabs and Kurds.

Other developments

• Four U.S. Army National Guard units have been alerted that they could be sent to Iraq for a scheduled troop rotation later this year or in early 2005, Pentagon officials said Monday. The units include the 42nd Infantry Division headquarters from the New York National Guard; the 256th Infantry Brigade from Louisiana; the 116th Armored Brigade from Idaho; and the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment from Tennessee, according to Pentagon officials.

CNN Baghdad Bureau Chief Jane Arraf contributed to this report


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