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Saturday Deadline for Iraqi Interim Constitution Doubtful

Iraq's Governing Council says their draft of a new constitution will not be ready by this weekend, the original deadline. A number of disagreements remain on what the document should include.

Members of the Governing Council said on Friday that many divisions remain about the transitional constitution that is supposed to be finished by Saturday. The document is intended as an interim law that will serve until a new constitution can be drafted by an elected government next year.

A committee made up of members of the U.S.-appointed Council remains deadlocked on several points, including the role of Islam in the new basic law. Islamic groups have said they want Sharia law - law based on the Koran - to figure into the document, a position opposed by other members of the council and the U.S.-led coalition.

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 also hinted that he might veto the constitution if it links the Iraqi government too closely to Islamic law. He says individual rights must be recognized, including the right to freedom of worship.

Also in question are demands by Kurdish delegates to ensure the continued autonomy of their northern provinces.

Membership of the Governing Council is distributed along religious and ethnic lines in a way that the U.S. coalition thought would best reflect Iraq's diverse population and ensure that no one group unfairly dominated its proceedings.

The current timetable was agreed upon on November 15 by the council and the U.S.-led coalition authority. It was supposed to provide for a trial period for the new basic law, leading up to the handover of power to Iraqis on June 30.

Mr. Bremer has said that date will hold. Disagreements over the date of Iraqi elections appear to have been set aside, after the United Nations secretary general concluded it is not possible to hold elections before the handover.

One of the campaigners for early elections, Iraq's leading Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, says he wants a Security Council resolution guaranteeing that elections will be held by the end of the year.