Iraq's Governing Council papers over disputes to reach deal on constitution

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The Independent Online

Iraq's United States-appointed Governing Council agreed an interim constitution yesterday, after days of wrangling and all-night talks.

The agreement came two days after a 28 February deadline had passed, because the council had become mired in disputes over the role of Islam, how to share power and Kurdish demands for federalism.

The final text did little to resolve these disputes. The council members accepted some issues "in principle" - but deferred decisions on the more contentious issues. The council agreed, however, to a bill of rights that protects freedom of speech, freedom of religious expression, freedom of assembly and due process.

The constitution names Islam as "a source" of legislation rather than the primary source - a compromise that is unlikely to end the struggle between the Shia and Sunni, who want to introduce sharia law, and secularists.

Kurdish demands for federalism, to enshrine the autonomy they have in the north, were agreed in principle but the council did not specify the borders of a Kurdish region.

The constitution also failed to resolve a dispute over sharing the presidency, saying only that there will be a president with two deputies. The Shia want the presidency to reflect their larger numbers, while the Sunnis and Kurds want it to rotate between the groups.

The council also agreed to a "goal" of filling 25 per cent of seats in a new parliament with women.

The new constitution will be signed on Wednesday.