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March 8, 2004
Better Late Than Never

Iraq took another step in its long journey to freedom with the signing of its new, interim constitution -- a signing delayed by a demonstration of power by a leading Shi'ite cleric:

Members of Iraq's Governing Council signed a landmark interim constitution Monday after resolving a political impasse sparked by objections from the country's most powerful cleric. The signing was a key step in U.S. plans to hand over power to the Iraqis by July 1. ...

The charter which includes a 13-article bill of rights, enshrines Islam as one of the bases of law and outlines the shape of a parliament and presidency as well as a federal structure for the country. It will remain in effect until a permanent constitution is approved by a national referendum planned for late 2005.

Originally scheduled to be signed last Friday, the Shi'ite members of Iraq's Governing Council suddenly boycotted at the last moment on instructions from al-Sistani, the leading Shi'ite cleric in the South, reportedly because he objected to several provisions, notably the rights of Kurds to veto any proposed constitution drawn up in the next elected government. The entire exercise had to be put on hold for the weekend and the gathered dignitaries sent home, all to come back today to sign the same document that sat on the table Friday. I doubt al-Sistani considers that a failure, however.

In the end analysis, however, I would say that it is impressive that Iraq got its constitution signed at all, even if the road remained bumpy all the way. The Iraqis may have problems coming together, but this shows that it's not impossible to do so. Hopefully, when elections are finally held, a federal system can be put in place which will give semi-autonomy to the individual states but still allow for a strong-enough central government for civil control of Iraq to guarantee liberty for the Iraqis. One thing is certain: the Iraqis are much better off than they were this time last year.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 8, 2004 5:35 AM

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