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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 March, 2004, 15:39 GMT
Shias to sign Iraq constitution
A chair, antique desk and pens at the abandoned Iraqi constitution signing ceremony
Friday's ceremony was cancelled at the last minute
Shia leaders in Iraq say they will sign the interim constitution despite initial objections from their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

A member of the US-appointed Governing Council Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said the document would be signed on Monday.

The son of the current Council president said the constitution would be signed as it stood, unchanged.

A signing ceremony was called off on Friday because Shia leaders objected to some aspects of the new constitution.

Top US administrator Paul Bremer said it was too early to say whether the dispute had been resolved.

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

There has been no word from other factions represented on the Council.

The interim constitution is meant to govern Iraq during the transitional period before elections, but the impasse highlights the ethnic and religious divisions it has yet to overcome, says the BBC's Barbara Plett in Baghdad.

Shia demands

Mr Rubaie and fellow Council member Ahmad Chalabi, along with Abdel Adel Mahdi, a representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), held talks with Ayatollah Sistani at his headquarters in the holy city of Najaf.

"There is going to be very good news very soon," Mr Rubaie said.

Iraqi Shia demonstrators carrying portrait of spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani
Ayatollah Sistani has been calling for early elections
"We are glad that the grand ayatollah understood our position," he added.

"[He] does not want to provoke a crisis in the country but, on the contrary, wishes to facilitate our work to make the political process succeed and without any interruption."

Ayatollah Sistani has repeatedly said the interim constitution should not deal with fundamental issues because it is being drawn up by an unelected body.

His objections have exposed the depth of divisions over how power should be shared between Iraq's different ethnic and religious communities, our correspondent says.

But the son of the current IGC president, Mohammed Hussein Bahr al-Uloum, said the ayatollah's reservations "will not constitute an obstacle".

"It [the constitution] will be signed as it was agreed upon before by the Governing Council members," he said.

After the ayatollah's intervention on Friday, five Shia members of the IGC failed to attend the signing ceremony.

DRAFT CONSTITUTION
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
Mr Sistani wanted to renegotiate the draft previously agreed by the 25-member Council.

In particular, Shias objected 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 have been demanding a five-person presidency rotating between three Shias, a Kurd and a Sunni - giving the Shias a dominant role.

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.


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