Tue, Mar 09, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Iraqi council signs interim constitution

REUTERS , BAGHDAD

Adnan Pachachi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, signs the interim constitution in Baghdad yesterday.

PHOTO: EPA

Iraq's Governing Council signed an interim constitution yesterday, a key step towards a planned hand-over of sovereignty by US-led occupation forces to Iraqis on June 30.

The signing took place at a hastily arranged ceremony in Baghdad after Shiite members of the 25-member council dropped their objections to the document over the weekend.

Just before the signing, loud explosions echoed across central Baghdad. At least one of the blasts was caused by a rocket hitting a house, witnesses said, adding that there were no casualties. The US Army said it had no immediate information.

The signing had been delayed twice -- first by bomb attacks on Shiites last Tuesday that killed at least 181 people, and then by last-minute doubts among Shiites that forced a high-profile ceremony on Friday to be abandoned.

Representatives of the five groups that backed out on Friday spent the weekend in the holy city of Najaf talking with top clerics including Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who wields immense influence over Iraq's 60 percent Shiite majority.

They announced on Sunday that Sistani still had deep reservations about the document but had given them the go-ahead to sign it in the interests of advancing political transition.

Under a US timetable, an Iraqi government is to take over sovereignty on June 30 and elections for a transitional assembly are to be held by the end of January next year.

Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish member of the Council, told reporters before the ceremony that the document was to be signed without changes.

US troops and Iraqi security forces in Baghdad were on high alert against any attempt by guerrillas to disrupt the signing of the constitution.

On Sunday evening, police said 10 rockets were fired at the headquarters of the US-led administration in Baghdad, close to where the document is to be signed. There were no serious injuries.

Mohammed Hussein al-Hakim, who is the son of a top Najaf cleric and sat in on the discussions at the weekend, said clerics were unhappy with the document but understood its importance.

"The religious authorities have made their position clear to the politicians, but don't want to interfere directly," Hakim said.

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