BAGHDAD, Iraq – Framers of Iraq's constitution will designate Islam (search) as the main source of legislation — a departure from the model set down by U.S. authorities during the occupation — according to a draft published Tuesday.
The draft states no law will be approved that contradicts "the rules of Islam" — a requirement that could affect women's rights and set Iraq on a course far different from the one envisioned when U.S.-led forces invaded in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein (search).
"Islam is the official religion of the state and is the main source of legislation," reads the draft published in the government newspaper Al-Sabah. "No law that contradicts with its rules can be promulgated."
The document also grants the Shiite religious leadership in Najaf (search) a "guiding role" in recognition of its "high national and religious symbolism."
Al-Sabah noted, however, that there were unspecified differences among the committee on the Najaf portion. Those would presumably include Kurds, Sunni Arabs and secular Shiites on the 71-member committee.
During the U.S.-run occupation, which ended June 28, 2004, key Shiite and some Sunni politicians sought to have Islam designated the main source of legislation in the interim constitution, which took effect in March 2004.
However, the U.S. governor of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, blocked the move, agreeing only that Islam would be considered "a source" — but not the only one. At the time, prominent Shiite politicians agreed to forego a public battle with Bremer and pursue the issue during the drafting of the permanent constitution.
Some women's groups fear strict interpretation of Islamic principles could erode their rights in such areas as divorce and inheritance. It could also move Iraq toward a more religiously based society than was envisioned by U.S. planners who hoped it would be a beacon of Western-style democracy in a region of one-party rule and theocratic regimes.
Members of the constitutional committee said the draft was among several and none would be final until parliament approves the charter by Aug. 15.
The drafting committee met Tuesday to discuss federalism, one of the most contentious issues, according to Sunni Arab member Mohammed Abed-Rabbou. He described the discussion as "heated" and said no agreement was reached.
Parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab, urged Iraqi media to refrain from publishing supposed texts unless they are released by the constitutional committee.
Sunni Arabs involved in writing the charter have complained that Shiites and Kurds are trying to steamroll their version of the draft without proper consultation and discussion.
The Sunnis agreed only Monday to resume work on the committee after they walked out to protest the assassination of two colleagues this month.
"It's very important that the constitution is produced through the participation of all Iraqis," U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters Tuesday. "This is important for ending and defeating the insurgency, for having a political compact and I want to say to the Arab Sunni community that they can count on us for such a compact."
Sunni Arab support is crucial because the charter can be scuttled if voters in three of Iraq's 18 provinces reject it by a two-thirds majority — and Sunni Arabs are a majority in four provinces. Sunni Arabs make up about 20 percent of Iraq's 27 million people but dominate areas where the insurgency is raging.
U.S. officials are eager for the Iraqis to meet the Aug. 15 deadline as a major step in building a stable constitutional government, considered key to pacifying the Sunni insurgency and enabling the U.S. and its partners to begin drawing down troop strength.
If the deadline is met, voters will decide whether to approve the charter in mid-October and if they do, another general election will take place in December.
In an Internet statement Tuesday, al-Qaida's wing in Iraq warned Iraqis not to take part in the constitutional referendum, saying democracy goes against God's law and anyone who participates would be considered an "infidel," and earmarked for death.
According to Al-Sabah, the draft constitution would declare Iraq a sovereign state with "a republican democratic federal system." However, the word "federal" appears in brackets, indicating opposition among the committee.
Sunni Arabs are suspicious that federalism, a prime goal of the Kurds, would lead to the disintegration of Iraq.
In other developments:
— Gunmen fired on two buses carrying workers home from a government-owned company on the western edge of Baghdad, killing 16 and wounding 27, police and a company official said.
— Two gunmen in a speeding car assassinated a top aide to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, police said in Baqouba, a city northeast of Baghdad.