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Iraqis Wrangle Over Interim Constitution as Deadline Looms - 2004-02-28


Iraqis continue to wrangle over an interim constitution that was to be completed Saturday.

Members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority meeting in Baghdad appear to be deadlocked with the deadline for the temporary charter just hours away.

Eight Shi'ite members of a committee drafting the document stormed out of talks late Friday over differences on the role of Islam in Iraq's legal system.

Committee members representing Iraq's Shi'ite majority want Islam to play a prominent legal role, but the U.S. administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, has indicated he might not approve a document that makes religion the basis of law.

Other issues yet to be resolved include women's rights and their role in Iraq's political life, and the extent of Kurdish autonomy.

Iraq's interim constitution is to take effect June 30 when the United States plans to transfer power to Iraqis. The document is to serve as a legal framework for a new government until a permanent constitution is adopted next year.

In another development, U.N. spokesman, Fred Eckhard, says the United Nations is waiting for a collective response from Iraq on a U.N. report that says elections are not feasible before the transfer of power in June, and possibly not by the end of the year.

On Thursday, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani -- the religious leader of Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim majority -- said he was dropping his demand for elections by June 30, but insisted on guarantees elections would be held this year.

Meanwhile, donor countries and international agencies are meeting Saturday in Abu Dhabi to assess Iraq's reconstruction needs. The United Arab Emirates are hosting the two-day event.

In another development, a U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard, says the United Nations is waiting for a collective response from Iraq on a U.N. report that says elections are not feasible before the transfer of power in June, and possibly not by the end of the year.

On Thursday, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani -- the religious leader of Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim majority -- said he was dropping his demand for elections by June 30, but insisted on guarantees elections would be held this year.

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