Iraqi council debates interim constitution

Some hopeful of meeting today's deadline

others say pact will take weeks

February 28, 2004|By Charles Duhigg | Charles Duhigg,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's Governing Council met late into last night attempting to reach agreement on issues as diverse as quotas for female legislators and the role of Islam in a new Iraq.

The meeting was held on the eve of today's deadline for completing an interim constitution to guide Iraq until a permanent one is completed next year.

Although some council members were optimistic about meeting the deadline, others estimated that the law could take weeks to complete.

Under a Nov. 15 agreement with the U.S.-led coalition ruling Iraq, the council was required to draft an interim constitution by today as part of a timetable to restore Iraqi sovereignty by June 30. Council members said outstanding issues include the form of Iraq's presidency, the role of Islam in the nation's laws, what powers to give local leaders and quotas for women in the legislature.

"There are still fundamental issues that are not agreed on," said Mahmoud Othman, an independent member of the council. "Everybody already knows the positions of everyone else. But without more flexibility and concessions, there will be no agreement."

Other council members, however, said they felt they could meet the deadline if the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, insisted on the deadline. Bremer must approve the interim charter's final version.

"The legal work was finished long ago. Now everything is political," said an adviser to a Governing Council member who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "This is a very sensitive time."

The issue of local authority is particularly important in northern Iraq, where Kurds lived in semi-autonomy during most of the 1990s and run security forces.

Some women on the Governing Council insisted that Iraq's new legislature set aside 40 percent of its seats for women, while other council members pushed for 25 percent.

Missing the deadline would not delay U.S. plans to transfer power June 30. But Othman said some of the most contentious issues may not be resolved in the interim constitution, and would be addressed when work began on a permanent constitution next year.

Not resolving significant issues might emphasize splits within the U.S.-appointed council, which has been criticized as ineffective by Iraqis and Americans.

"If we don't finish the law in a few days all the agreements with the Americans may change," Othman said. "Behind closed doors the Americans are pushing people to meet the deadline." Under the Nov. 15 agreement, the interim constitution must include a bill of rights, assurances of an independent judiciary and civilian control over the Iraqi military and security forces, among other issues.

In other developments:

Militants plastered a mosque in the city of Ramadi, west of the capital, with leaflets claiming responsibility for the killing of seven Iraqis suspected of giving information to U.S. forces, warning, "This is the fate of all informers."

About 130 Japanese soldiers arrived in Samawah, about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad to join another 100 already there. The soldiers are working to supply Iraqis with clean water, rebuild schools and bolster local hospitals. Their number is expected to increase to 1,000 ground, air and naval forces.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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