- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s U.S. administrator suggested yesterday that he would block any move by Iraqi leaders to make Islamic law the backbone of an interim constitution, which women’s groups fear could threaten their rights.

In the continuing violence, roadside bombs killed two American soldiers. The U.S. military also said yesterday that gunmen killed an American Baptist minister from Rhode Island and wounded three pastors in a weekend ambush south of the capital.

A grenade exploded yesterday in an elementary school playground in Baghdad, killing one child and wounding four. The children apparently triggered the explosive while they were playing, Iraqi police said.

During a visit to a women’s center in Karbala, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer said the current draft of the interim constitution, due to take effect at the end of the month, would make Islam the state religion and “a source of inspiration for the law” — but not the main source for that law.

However, Mohsen Abdel-Hamid, president of the Iraqi Governing Council and a Sunni Muslim hard-liner, has proposed making Islamic law the “principal basis” of legislation.

Mr. Bremer was asked what would happen if Iraqi leaders wrote into the interim charter that Islamic Shariah law is the principal basis of legislation. “Our position is clear,” he replied. “It can’t be law until I sign it.”

Mr. Bremer must sign all measures passed by the 25-member council before they can become law. Iraq’s powerful Shi’ite clergy, however, wants the interim constitution to be approved by an elected legislature. Under U.S. plans, a permanent constitution would not be drawn up and put to a vote by the Iraqi people until 2005.

Under most interpretations of Islamic law, women’s rights to seek divorce are restricted and they receive only half the inheritance of men. Islamic law also allows for polygamy and often permits marriage of girls at a younger age than does secular law.

Earlier this month, 45 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter to President Bush urging him to preserve women’s rights in Iraq.

U.S. leverage with the Iraqis will decline, however, after the coalition returns sovereignty to an Iraqi administration at the end of June.

In the latest attacks, an American soldier from Task Force Iron Horse was killed and four were wounded in a bombing yesterday in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Two Iraqis were arrested, one with a cell phone that may have been used to detonate the bomb, said a military spokesman in Tikrit.

The other fatal bombing occurred in the center of Baghdad, killing one soldier from the 1st Armored Division and wounding another.

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