[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 6 March, 2004, 15:56 GMT
Iraqi constitution in the balance
A chair, antique desk and pens at the abandoned Iraqi constitution signing ceremony
The pens were ready, but not everyone wanted to sign
Iraq's political future is unclear after the latest delay in creating an interim constitution for the country.

A signing ceremony did not go ahead as planned on Friday after five Shia Muslim members of the US-appointed Governing Council refused to attend.

They are believed to be unhappy about the level of representation for non-Shia interests.

The five are currently consulting Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq's majority Shias.

A five-member rotating presidency, with more Shias
Removing minority rights to veto permanent constitution

He is apparently determined to ensure that the Shias, as the majority community, are the dominant power in the new Iraq.

In particular, he is objecting to a clause that would give Iraq's ethnic Kurdish minority the right to veto a permanent constitution, due to be drawn up after elections are held.

Another point of dispute is the make-up of the presidency. The draft agreement provides for a single president with two deputies.

The Shias are now demanding a five-person presidency rotating between three Shias, a Kurd and a Sunni - giving the Shias a dominant role.

Their stance threatens to derail plans by the US-led coalition occupying Iraq to hand back power at the end of June.

Monday signing?

Iraq's interim Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said: "It was unfortunate that in the last minute a minority of members of the Governing Council members have raised reservations and objections to put their signature on the final document, although everything had been agreed in advance."

But he added that he was "not pessimistic" that the transitional constitution would still be signed.

Iraq will have a president, two deputies, a prime minister and a cabinet
Bill of rights includes protections for free speech and religious expression
Islam will be one of a number of legislation sources
Women should make up 25% of assembly
Kurds remain autonomous
In a statement issued on Saturday, the Governing Council said it would reconvene on Monday "to finalise the issue and sign the law".

Comprising more than 60 articles, the temporary constitution enshrines values including freedom of speech and religion.

It lays the foundations for direct elections before the end of January 2005.

The proposed constitution has been hailed by council members and the chief US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, as one of the most progressive in the Middle East.

The BBC's Linden Kemkaran
"The Americans want Iraq to set an example to the rest of the Middle East"

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific