- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2004

BAGHDAD — Iraqi leaders were unable yesterday to agree on an interim constitution as they tried to bridge wide differences over major issues, including the role of Islam and Kurdish autonomy, a day before the U.S.-set deadline for finishing.

The interim constitution is supposed to serve as the foundation of the Iraqi government until a permanent charter can be completed next year. It will be the basis of the legal system after the U.S.-led coalition turns over sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 30.

Members of the drafting committee met late in the evening in a bid to meet today’s deadline. The top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, must approve the final version.

But a “significant number” of members walked out during the session, and the meeting had to end because a quorum was lost, an official who attended the talks said. Some remaining members continued into the night, the official said, without saying who walked out or why.

A spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party said there was “no great progress” on the terms of a Kurdish federal region, the Arab television station Al Jazeera reported.

Asked if the constitution would be completed by the deadline, Feisal Istrabadi, an adviser to council member Adnan Pachachi said, “I hope so,” adding that talks would continue today.

Before the evening session, council member Mahmoud Othman said it was likely the drafters will need more time.

Missing the deadline by a few days would not set back U.S. plans to transfer power on June 30. But Mr. Othman and other council members said this week that some of the most controversial issues may be not be resolved in the interim constitution and could be held over until work starts on a permanent one next year.

Major differences among the drafters include the role of Islam and the extent of Kurdish autonomy in the north, Mr. Othman said. Also undecided is the structure of a collective presidency — whether the body should have three or five members and whether the chairmanship should rotate, said a spokesman for council member Waeil Abdel-Latif.

Islamic conservatives on the council want the constitution to state that Islam is the main source of legislation and no law should be passed if it is contrary to Islamic values, Mr. Othman said.

Mr. Bremer has suggested he might veto such language. The U.S.-favored text would enshrine Islam as one of the sources of law — but not the only one. “We think that is a good formula,” Mr. Othman said.

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