Iraqis Reach Agreement on Interim Constitution

Iraqi politicians agreed early Monday on an interim constitution with a wide ranging bill of rights and a single chief executive, bridging a gulf between members over the role of Islam (search) in the future government.

The new constitution, a key aspect of the United States' plans to turn over power June 30, will be signed by top American administrator L. Paul Bremer (searchon Wednesday, after the Shiite Muslim religious holiday of Ashoura (search) ends, a coalition official said on condition of anonymity.

The document "strikes a balance between the role of Islam and the bill of individual rights and democratic principles," the official said.

He also said the charter sets a goal, not a quota, to have at least 25 percent of the national assembly made up of women, adding that council members unanimously approved the document.

The deal came two days after a deadline for finishing the document — a key part of the U.S. plan for handing over power to the Iraqis on June 30. Saturday's deadline had been set by the Americans and agreed to by the Governing Council (searchin November. When it passed with the council still deeply divided, Bremer helped organize marathon talks.

Besides a comprehensive bill of rights, including protections for free speech, religious expression, assembly and due process, it also spells out the executive branch.

Under the terms of the document, Iraq will have a president with two deputies, a prime minister and a cabinet.

Council member Mahmoud Othman, a Sunni Kurd, said leaders will go over the document's English and Arabic text to "make sure every word is there" before it is signed.

"They believe this is a document that is historic, not only for Iraq, but for the entire region," the official said.

The basic law does not tackle the ongoing wrangling of how power will be transferred from the U.S.-led occupiers to an Iraqi government by July. That measure will be handled in a forthcoming annex, the official said.

But the charter does stipulate that elections for a Transitional National Assembly, which will be charged with drafting and voting on a permanent constitution for Iraq, will be held by the end of the year, if possible. If not, those elections would be held in 2005.

Rules for those elections will be written by the interim Iraqi government that takes power July 1.

The CPA official said Iraq's first assembly will be a "transitional" one because it will be under the auspices of the interim constitution.

"That Transitional National Assembly will be responsible for drafting their own constitution. Future governments are no longer transitional," he said.

The document was cobbled together in the early morning after two days of talks by members of the Governing Council.

According to an Iraqi official, the politicians agreed on compromises on the role of Islam but put off details on some aspects of Kurdish autonomy.

There was "full agreement ... on each article," said Entifadh Qanbar, a spokesman for Shiite Muslim council member Ahmad Chalabi.

The members, however, were unable to agree on the terms and size of the Kurdish self-rule region in the north. Kurdish leaders had demanded the right to keep their peshmerga militia as a distinct armed force and to control oil and other resources in their region. They also sought to add districts to the autonomous area.

Othman said the Kurdish issues weren't abandoned, but set aside, for now.

"Some points simply could not be done ... but (our attitude is) what you can't have now, you will have later. That's why we didn't insist that it be now," he said.

Shiites, who dominate southern Iraq, insisted that if the Kurds had the right to self-rule in their northern strongholds, Shiites should enjoy the same privilege in areas of the south where they predominate.

"The atmosphere was very constructive," he said of the long negotiations. "Alternative language and creative ways were brought to the table to come out with consensus on each issue."