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Iraqi Leaders Hail Signing of Interim Constitution as Historic - 2004-03-08

Iraq's interim leaders signed a new temporary constitution Monday, hailing the document as historic and one that reflects consensus among Iraqis.

A group of children representing the new spirit of the Iraqi nation sang of peace and hope to begin the ceremonial signing of Iraq's interim constitution.

The current president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Mohammed Bahr al-Ulloum, hailed the signing of the document as historic. The Shi'ite cleric spoke of the 181 people who were killed last week when bombs tore through the cities of Baghdad and Karbala on the Shi'ite holiday of Ashoura, saying hundreds were martyred by evil forces that have tried to hinder the political process.

He said the road to the new Iraq began with the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, and restoring sovereignty to the Iraqi people will be the nation's crowning moment.

The new constitution recognizes the basic rights of all segments of Iraqi society calling for democracy and pluralism in the new federal republic of Iraq. Women will be represented in government, Islam will be the official religion of the state and a source of legislation, and Kurds will retain basic autonomy in the north.

Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani spoke about the chemical attacks that Saddam Hussein launched in 1988, killing thousands of Kurds. He said it is the first time Kurds feel they are equal under the law.

While some have praised the interim constitution for giving voice to all ethnic and religious groups within Iraq, many of the parties involved say it didn't go far enough.

Kurds had hoped for more guarantees of autonomy, oil revenue sharing and territorial expansion. Shi'ites had pressed for Islam to be the official source of the country's legislation.

The top U.S. official in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, said the constitution reflected compromise, which is necessary in a democracy.

The signing of the document was delayed twice, first by a series of bombings in Baghdad and Karbala last Tuesday, and then on Friday after Shi'ite leaders had last-minute reservations about the veto power that Kurds could exercise.