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After Final Vote Tally New Iraqi Assembly to Draft Constitution

When the final votes are tallied in Iraq, the new 275-member transitional National Assembly will meet and the strongest political groups will begin negotiating the selection of a president, two vice presidents and a prime minister. Members of the assembly will then begin shaping a vision for the country's future by drafting a permanent constitution to be voted on by the Iraqi public in a general referendum.

After millions of Iraqis went to the polls January 30, officials reported a boost in civic pride in Baghdad and across the country.

While a violent insurgency continues in some areas, interim leaders hope a successful election will help weaken support for the militants responsible for suicide bombings and other attacks on coalition troops as well as Iraqi security forces and civilians.

Iraq's Ambassador to the United Nations, Samir Sumaidaie, says despite continuing hardships the mood in the Iraqi capital improved after the election.

"Speaking to some friends and relatives in Baghdad the day after the election I got the sense that the atmosphere in Baghdad had changed as the result of the election," he said. "People were happy. A few weeks before everybody was depressed, everybody was downhearted, confused, wondering which way events will turn, but the day after the election, even though they were still suffering from fuel shortages, gas shortages, no electricity, they were in a different mood. This is a tremendous achievement for all of us in Iraq."

As the insurgents tried to disrupt the elections, Ambassador Sumaidaie says radical elements will also try to have an impact on the process of writing the constitution.

"Any constitution we write will be challenged by the extremists, there is no question about it," he said. "But our objective should be to limit the margins, to minimize this borderline, minimize the forces that will oppose and therefore to gain maximum possible legitimacy for the constitution."

Ambassador Sumaidaie says the moderate elements of all factions in Iraq should be brought together to help write the new constitution, and outside experts in constitutional law should be invited to give their advice about the process.

The Transitional Administrative Law currently governing Iraq states that the National Assembly should encourage debate on the constitution through regular public meetings throughout the country.

The United Nations is expected to promote such a national dialog and consensus building as the constitution is being drafted.

Nijyar Shemdin, a U.S. representative of the Kurdish Regional Government, warns that the constitution must contain protections for minority groups in Iraq.

"Special care must be taken to prevent the tyranny of the majority and to protect rights, which belong to each individual no matter what their background," he said.

While some Sunni Arab leaders called for a boycott of the recent elections, there are indications that influential Sunni groups, such as the Association of Muslim Scholars, will join in the drafting of the constitution.

Jonathan Morrow is a constitutional lawyer at the United States Institute of Peace, a Washington-based organization that is working with Iraqi leaders in support of an inclusive process for drafting a constitution.

Mr. Morrow says in his conversations with a wide range of Iraqi political parties, there appears to be a commitment to transparency and inclusiveness in the constitution making process.

"We believe that it is crucial that the constitutional process in Iraq be done right," he said. "That is all Iraqis, whatever their ethnicity, religion or gender should have a chance to know the constitutional issues and have a say in an Iraqi constitution. As for people living in the so-called Sunni areas, we believe it will be very important for those ordinary Iraqis to be able to formulate opinions and ambitions for an Iraqi constitution so that their participation in the life of the nation will be assured."

The transitional assembly has until August 15 to draft the constitution that is to be voted on in a nationwide referendum by October 15.

Elections for a permanent government are to be held by December 15 with elected officials to take office by December 31 of this year.