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Iraqi Governing Council Agrees to Interim Constitution - 2004-03-01

The Iraqi Governing Council has agreed on an interim constitution that sets the basic laws for the transitional government that will take over from the U.S.-led coalition on June 30. Council members hailed the document as the birth of a new Iraq.

Speaking for the 25-member Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi called the agreement an historic moment in Iraq's history.

"We have adopted unanimously an instrument, the law for the administration of the Iraqi state during the transitional period, which includes, among other things," he said, "a comprehensive bill of rights, something which is really unheard of, unprecedented in this part of the world."

The final document sets out the structure of the executive branch of the interim government, which will be a president and two deputies. The idea was to provide checks and balances to prevent any hint of authoritarian rule that Iraqis have experienced for the past three decades.

Council member Raja Habib Khuzai says women have also gained their place in the political arena.

"With regard to rights of women, according to what is in the law and we agreed upon, women will take no less than 25 percent of the seats in the national assembly," he said. "This has no precedence in the past or present, not even in the Middle East or America. And, God willing, Iraqi women will be able to participate in the development of Iraq."

The final document states that Islam is one source of legislation, not the source of legislation. A senior coalition official describes it as the right balance between identifying the religion of most Iraqis and protecting basic freedoms for all Iraqis that are now enshrined in a bill of rights.

The document will ensure that Iraqi Kurds maintain their autonomy in the north. The Kurdish language will be the second official language of the country. But the council says Iraq will have only one flag and one national anthem signifying its unity.

Council member Samir Shakir Sumaidy says the process of dialogue and compromise in drafting the interim constitution was itself unprecedented for Iraq.

"For the first time in the history of modern Iraq, which was accustomed to one authority and one opinion, we adopted the method of dialogue and consultation and through that we were able to reach gradually a common ground," he said.

The council is expected to formally sign the document on Wednesday, after the end of the Shiite Muslim holiday Ashura. Then a national public relations campaign will be launched to inform Iraqis about the document's details, including a bill of rights and the structure of the Transitional National Assembly that takes power from the U.S. coalition at the end of June.

Who will chose the members of the assembly is to be worked out over the next few weeks.