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Iraq's Shi'ite Leaders to Meet on Constitution Delays - 2004-03-06


Shi'ite Muslim members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council plan to meet Saturday, with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to discuss problems that have delayed the signing of Iraq's interim constitution.

Moments before an elaborate signing ceremony was to have taken place Friday, five Shi'ite council members objected to certain parts of the basic law and said they would refuse to sign the document. The dissenters, who have close ties to Ayatollah Sistani, are said to object to wording that they believe gives excessive power to minority Kurds in northern Iraq.

The influential leader of Iraq's Shi'ite majority is to meet with several council members today at his home in the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad. Ayatollah Sistani has made various demands in recent weeks that have caused the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to change details of its plans for the transfer of power to Iraqis at the end of June.

Members of the Iraqi Governing Council say their current plan is to reconvene Monday, to finalize outstanding issues and sign the document. In the meantime, they are planning informal talks on the matter.

The 25-member council had agreed unanimously last Monday to accept the interim constitution. Members were to sign the document on Wednesday, after a major Shi'ite holy day.

However, after hundreds of people were killed or wounded Tuesday in multiple attacks against Shi'ite mosques, the signing was postponed until Friday, to allow three days of mourning.

Here in Washington, Bush administration officials described the disagreement and talks to resolve it as "democracy at work." They say the important thing is that Governing Council members are discussing the issues.However, after hundreds of people were killed or wounded Tuesday in multiple attacks against Shi'ite mosques, the signing was postponed until Friday to allow three days of mourning.

Here in Washington, Bush administration officials described the disagreement and talks to resolve it as "democracy at work." They say the important thing is that Governing Council members are discussing the issues.

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