Blasts as Iraqi politicians sign interim constitution

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Members of Iraq's Governing Council today signed a landmark interim constitution after resolving a political impasse sparked by objections from the country's most powerful cleric. The signing is a key step in US plans to hand over power by 1 July.

Before an audience of prominent Iraqi and American civilian and military officials - including Paul Bremer, the top administrator in Iraq - the 25 council members signed the document on an antique desk once owned by King Faisal I, Iraq's first monarch.

Council president Mohammed Bahr al-Ulloum called the signing a "historic moment, decisive in the history of Iraq."

"There is no doubt that this document will strengthen Iraqi unity in a way never seen before," said Massoud Barzani, a Kurdish leader on the council.

The signing came nine days after a deadline set in a US timetable. The delay was caused by a mourning period following deadly bomb attacks on Shiite shrines, as well as political wrangling on the US-picked council. The impasse strained relations between Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders and highlighted the power of Iraq's Shiite clergy.

The charter includes a 13-article bill of rights and enshrines Islam as one of the bases of law and outlines the shape of a parliament and presidency as well as a federal structure for the country. It will remain in effect until a permanent constitution is approved by a national referendum planned for late 2005.

About an hour before the signing ceremony began, insurgents fired mortar shells at two police stations in central Baghdad, injuring four people, including one policeman, Iraqi officials said.