BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi leaders must still decide on
the form of a new government to take power June 30 despite approval
of an interim constitution at the end of a protracted and sometimes
stormy debate, officials said yesterday.

Members of the Iraqi Governing Council agreed to the interim
constitution before dawn yesterday — two days after the
deadline. It establishes a bill of rights and cements compromises
on the structure of a future presidency and the role of Islam.

The document calls for elections by Jan. 31, 2005 to create a
legislature, with a goal of having women in at least a quarter of
the seats. It does not say what kind of government will run the
country from June 30, when the U.S.-led coalition hands over power,
until Jan. 31.

Council member Adnan Pachachi said the form of the new
administration will be included in an annex to the interim
constitution once agreement is reached.

The charter also leaves open the question of Kurdish autonomy
after negotiators were unable to agree on that issue.

The new constitution will be signed by top American
administrator L. Paul Bremer and made public tomorrow after the
Shiite Muslim religious holiday of Ashoura, a coalition official
said on condition of anonymity. The charter will remain in effect
until a permanent constitution is drafted and ratified next
year.

With approval of the interim constitution, the last remaining
step is to decide how to constitute a new government to take power
from the U.S.-led occupation authority on June 30.

Council members and U.S. officials have been divided for weeks
over a formula for putting together the government — and it
appears likely the United Nations will have to intervene to help
find a solution.

The American blueprint called for choosing a legislature through
regional caucuses, but the plan fell apart after Shiite clerics
called that method illegitimate and demanded a national election. A
U.N. mission then judged that elections before June 30 are
infeasible, leaving all sides looking for a new alternative.

The agreement on the constitution came on the third night of
marathon talks — two days after the deadline agreed to by the
council and U.S. officials. When the deal was finally struck at
4:30 a.m. yesterday, delegates gave a standing ovation.

“It was a very emotional moment,” said Salem
Chalabi, a representative from the Iraqi National Congress, told
The Associated Press. “We established a bill of rights like
no other in the region. It was quite a remarkable thing”
— even more so for being hammered out in the former Military
Industry Ministry, a bulwark of Saddam Hussein’s ousted
regime.

“Compromises were made. Not everybody got what they
wanted,” he said. But “everybody was happy.”

The charter has a 13-article bill of rights, including
protections for free speech, religious expression, assembly and due
process and spells out the shape of an executive branch.

Under the terms of the document, Iraq will have a president with
two deputies who would choose a prime minister and cabinet. Chalabi
said decisions by the presidents and deputies would have to be
unanimous.

Council members refused to say, however, how the president and
his deputies would be chosen — and it was not clear whether
there had been agreement on that issue. Shiites have demanded that
the president be a Shiite, with Kurd and Sunni vice presidents, but
other council members have resisted Shiite attempts to dominate the
executive.

One of the toughest issues was how to enshrine Islam in the
charter. U.S. officials and liberals on the council succeeded in
ensuring Islam is “a source” of legislation out of many
— as opposed to “the” principle source as
conservatives had sought.

Fundamentalists backed down after a clause was included
underlining that no legislation will be passed that contravenes the
tenets of Islam, several council members said.

Shiite council member Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council
for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq said Iraq’s historic and
future identity was Islamic — a fact that “must be
respected.”

The members, however, were unable to agree on the terms and size
of the Kurdish self-rule region in the north. Kurdish leaders had
demanded the right to keep their militia as a distinct armed force
and to control oil and other resources in their region. They also
sought to add districts to the autonomous area.

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