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Iraqi Governing Council Signs Interim Constitution - 2004-03-08


Iraq's Governing Council has signed an interim constitution for the country, paving the way for the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty at the end of June.

The 25 members of the U.S. - appointed council signed the document one by one today (Monday) at a ceremony in Baghdad attended by dignitaries, including U.S. administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer.

U.S. and Iraqi officials now have less than four months to agree on how to form a temporary Iraqi government to take control from the Coalition Provisional Authority on June 30th. That government will work on a permanent constitution, and prepare for national elections no later than the end of next January.

Meanwhile, violence continued in Iraq. Police in the northern city of Mosul say a member of the municipal council was killed by gunmen who drove up beside his car. And in Baghdad, insurgents fired mortars at a police station, wounding at least four people.

The interim constitution was to have been signed last week, but the signing was delayed twice - first by deadly attacks at Shi'ite holy sites and then because five Shi'ite council members were concerned the document gave too much power to minority Kurds.

However, after meeting Sunday Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani -- the leader of Iraqi's Shi'ite majority -- the Shi'ite council members said he agreed the document should be signed as it was written, despite his reservations.

The Shi'ites wanted to delete wording that says a permanent constitution will not take effect if two-thirds of voters in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces reject it, even if the document is accepted by a majority of the country's voters. Kurds control three provinces in northern Iraq. Shi'ites also do not like plans for a single presidency, and instead want a five-member presidency that could give Shi'ites a 3-2 majority.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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