Iraqi Constitution Stalled
A key step in a U.S. plan to transfer power in Iraq hit a snag Friday when five members of the Iraqi Governing Council balked at signing an interim constitution because of objections raised by the country’s most influential religious leader, council officials said.
The signing of the laboriously negotiated document, set to take place amid great fanfare before more than 200 invited guests and a musical ensemble, was delayed indefinitely when five Shiite Muslim members of the council, including its acting president, demanded changes in at least two provisions that had drawn last-minute criticism from Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, council sources said.
Negotiations between the five and the rest of the 25-member council were going ahead, and U.S. officials expressed hope that the differences could be resolved today, allowing the signing ceremony in the Baghdad Convention Center to proceed.
“It appears Sistani is behind these objections,” an aide to one of the council members said.
Hamid Kafai, a spokesman for the Governing Council, said the body still hoped to sign the document later Friday night. “God willing. . . we will reach an agreement,” he said.
“We have to look at all of the fine details,” he said. “Some members found that certain phrases have to be rephrased.” He said there was no “disagreement on the principles” in the constitution. “It’s just some technicalities.”
A senior U.S. official would not comment on the origin of the objections but said the provisions in dispute do not “relate to any of our red lines” — basic principles such as freedom of religion that the U.S. occupation authority insists the document contain. Under the draft interim constitution, Islam is the official religion in Iraq, but not the sole source of legislation.
The senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, said the occupation administrator, L. Paul Bremer, could have tried to force the process but decided this morning to “let the Governing Council members work this out for themselves.” He said Bremer was not involved in mediating the dispute.
Annoying but I suppose not all that surprising.