BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — For an hour anyway, Iraqi leaders put
aside their disagreements during the signing of a landmark interim
constitution yesterday, heaping praise on the U.S.-backed document
amid patriotic songs and Quranic verses urging unity. But sectarian
differences resurfaced as soon as the event ended.

The Shiites’ most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali
al-Husseini al-Sistani, issued a religious edict saying he had
reservations about the interim constitution and that it will gain
legitimacy only when adopted by an elected assembly.

His supporters on Iraq’s Governing Council pledged to try
to amend parts of the charter, saying they effectively give
minority Kurds and Sunni Muslims a veto over a permanent
constitution due to be drafted and put to a referendum next
year.

“This law places obstacles in the path of reaching a
permanent constitution for the country that maintains its unity,
the rights of its sons of all sects and ethnic backgrounds,”
al-Sistani said.

President Bush praised the 22-page document, saying in a
statement that its adoption was a “historic milestone in the
Iraqi people’s long journey from tyranny and violence to
liberty and peace.”

Still, al-Sistani’s edict and the Shiite Muslim council
members’ comments somewhat devalued the historic significance
of the signing of a charter that promises to compensate Iraqis for
years of oppression under Saddam Hussein, safeguard the freedoms
and human rights of their ethnic and religious groups and lay down
the foundations for a genuine democracy.

Senior Shiite clerics like al-Sistani are exploiting the void
left by Saddam’s departure to exercise enormous influence on
the U.S.-backed political process in a political arena once
dominated by Sunnis but now controlled by a Shiite majority and a
large Kurdish community.

Yesterday’s ceremony, held in the marble-and-glass
Convention Center, a huge building inside the “Green
Zone” complex housing the headquarters of the U.S.-led
coalition, kicked off with a recital of carefully chosen Quranic
verses that urged Muslims to set aside their differences.

Later, children dressed in Arab, Assyrian and Kurdish costumes
performed patriotic songs.

“The Executioner is gone, festivities will begin, we will
wear colorful clothes now that sadness is behind us,” went
one song that alluded to Saddam’s rule. The performance drew
warm applause from the roughly 200 guests, including L. Paul
Bremer, chief U.S. administrator in Iraq.

Of the council’s 25 members, 21 were present. Those absent
were represented by deputies. Led by current council president
Mohammed Bahr al-Ulloum, the members were called forward one at a
time to sign the document, which sat on an antique wooden desk used
by Iraq’s first monarch, King Faisal I.

They signed the document, and the 25 later posed for
photographers standing in three rows on a podium.

 

Contradictory opinions surface

Iraqis and Bush disagree on meaning of interim constitution

  • President Bush said the constitution was a “historic
    milestone in the Iraqi people’s long journey from tyranny and
    violence to liberty and peace.”
  • Shiite Muslim leaders said the charter may give minority Kurds
    and Sunni Muslims power to veto the permanent constitution, and may
    also produce obstacles to reaching a permanent constitution.
  • The Charter promises to compensate Iraqis for years of
    oppression under Saddam Hussein, as well as safeguard the human
    rights of ethnic and religious groups.

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