Iraqi Constitution to Be Signed Monday Unchanged

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Shiite politicians who delayed the signing of Iraq's interim constitution said Sunday they will sign the document without any changes on Monday, despite the concerns of the country's top Shiite cleric.

The agreement was reached after talks between members of Iraq's Governing Council and the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani.

"Sistani has reservations, but it will not constitute an obstacle," said Mohammed Hussein Bahr al-Ulloum, who helped coordinate the talks. "It will be signed as it was agreed upon before the governing council members."

Iraqi Governing Council (search) member Mouwafak al-Rubaie was one of four Shiite politicians who met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani (search) after Friday's intended signing of the document was postponed. Al-Sistani rejected two clauses in the charter, breaking up what only days earlier had been a done deal.

"The news is very good and tomorrow everything will be clear," al-Rubaie said. "We are glad that the grand ayatollah understood our position."

Earlier, a coalition source said on condition of anonymity that Kurds and Sunnis on the council refused to change the disputed text and there was no compromise proposal. The Shiite members were trying to persuade al-Sistani to drop his objections, the source said.

The Shiite members did not reveal details of their meeting with al-Sistani.

The dispute illustrated the power that the 75-year-old grand ayatollah, who rarely leaves his home in the holy city of Najaf (search), holds over the political process. His objections prompted the Shiites on the council to refuse to sign the interim constitution Friday, scuttling a signing ceremony and embarrassing U.S. officials.

The main dispute was over a clause in the interim charter giving Iraq's Kurds the power to scuttle a permanent charter. Some Shiite leaders also said they wanted to change a clause providing for a single president instead of a rotating leadership.

A Kurdish official said his side would not consent to changing the clause, which was agreed to by the entire council when it approved the constitution Monday after several days of intense debate.

"We are sticking to it because it's a legitimate demand," said Kosrat Rasul, an official in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two main Kurdish parties on the council.

Council members from all sides said they expected to have the dispute resolved by Monday's signing.

"We have announced that Monday is the date for the signing of the law and we are determined to stick to this date," Mohammad Bahr al-Ulloum, a Shiite member, told reporters in Najaf.

The interim constitution, which will remain in effect until the end of 2005 after a permanent charter is approved, is a crucial part of the U.S. plan for handing over power to the Iraqis on June 30. It took intense negotiations last weekend, shepherded by the Americans, to overcome sharp divisions and reach a deal.

On Saturday, al-Sistani's son, Mohammed, shuttled between his father's home and Bahr al-Ulloum's office in Najaf to discuss the constitution.

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurd on the council, said he was hopeful for a Monday signing. He invited al-Sistani to send a delegate to talks in Baghdad to ensure a deal is reached.

Al-Sistani has twice before derailed U.S. plans with objections to the timetable and methods for transferring sovereignty to an Iraqi government. The Bush administration wants to carry out the transfer well before November's U.S. presidential elections.

The Shiites opposed a clause that Kurds got into the charter concerning a referendum planned for next year to approve a permanent constitution. The clause says that even if a majority of Iraqis support the permanent constitution, the referendum would fail if two-thirds of the voters in three provinces reject it.

The Kurds control three provinces in the north, enabling them to stop any constitution encroaching on their self-rule. Al-Sistani objected to a minority having the power to block any charter approved by the Shiite majority.

Several officials said another cause of dispute was the makeup of the presidency. The draft approved earlier in the week set up a single president with two deputies.

The Shiites were reviving their demand for a presidency that would rotate among three Shiites, a Kurd and a Sunni — giving the Shiites a dominant role. American and Iraqi officials, however, said the shape of the presidency was not in dispute.

In Washington, U.S. officials said a team of 50 Justice Department prosecutors, investigators and support staff left for Iraq to assemble war crimes cases against Saddam Hussein and others in his former regime.

In the northern city of Mosul, insurgents in a passing car fired rocket-propelled grenades at a police station on Sunday, police and witnesses said. Two Iraqi civilians were killed and two police officers were wounded.

In the southern city of Mahmoudiya, gunmen shot and wounded a policeman who works as a liaison with American troops, police said. The attackers fled Saturday night.

Insurgents view police and other Iraqi officials cooperating with the U.S.-led coalition as collaborators, and often target them.

In Habaniyah, west of Baghdad, U.S. soldiers opened fire on a truck packed with explosives Saturday, killing the driver. Three Americans were wounded when the truck crashed on a bridge and exploded.