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Iraqi Governing Council Members at Odds Over Draft Constitution - 2004-02-28

Members of the Iraqi Governing Council are trying to work out their differences over the draft of an interim constitution and the shape of the government that is due to take power at the end of June.

The talks broke up briefly Friday night, after several Shiite Muslim members walked out, but they resumed on Saturday. At least three key disputes remain unresolved, involving the role of Islam in the basic law, the representation of women and the status of the Kurdish autonomous region in the north.

On the role of Islam, there are disputes over the wording of the document, including whether to describe Islam as a basis for laws, or as the basic law of the country.

The top U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, has said the interim constitution can recognize that Islam is the religion of most Iraqis, but he has hinted he might veto the constitution, if the Iraqi government is too closely linked to Islamic law.

The interim constitution was supposed to be finished Saturday, according to a timetable agreed on last November. Council members involved in the negotiations say they do not expect any results before Sunday at the earliest.

The Iraqi Governing Council was set up to include representatives from Iraq's religious and ethnic communities as a way to reflect Iraq's diverse population.

The council has been thrashing out an interim constitution that would provide a Basic Law to govern the country when power is handed over to Iraqis on June 30. A delay of a few days in finalizing the interim constitution is not expected to change that deadline.

A dispute over when to hold national elections seems to have been settled. The government that takes power in June is expected to organize elections, before the end of the year, if possible.