- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials agreed on an interim constitution today, and likely will sign the document on Wednesday, an aide to Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi said.

“We just broke out . The fundamental law has been concluded. An agreement has been concluded. There is consensus on every single point,” said Entifadh Qanbar, representative Mr. Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Council.

The 25 council members, with guidance from U.S. overseer L. Paul Bremer, have been working day and night to finalize the law, aimed at seeing Iraq through a period of transition ahead of elections and into next year.

The temporary constitution made up of about 60 articles will enshrine a bill of rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and civilian control of the military.

It is an important step in clearing the way for a June 30 transfer of sovereignty from the U.S.-led coalition to an Iraqi interim authority.

Meanwhile, Polish soldiers sprayed a bus with gunfire after it crashed into a checkpoint outside the holy city of Karbala, where Shi’ite Muslims are holding their most important festival of the year.

Eight Iranian pilgrims, an Iraqi civil defense trooper and a Pole were injured, police and emergency officials said. But Polish officials denied there were any pilgrims in the bus and said they appeared to have thwarted a terrorist attack.

Coalition forces have stepped up security around southern cities during the Ashoura festival, as 1.5 million Shi’ite pilgrims including about 100,000 Iranians converge on the shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf. The festival marks the death of Imam Hussein, a Shi’ite saint and grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

The bus, apparently having brake troubles, hit a minivan and swerved into a concrete barrier at the checkpoint manned by Polish and Iraqi security forces, witnesses said. Polish troops apparently thought the speeding vehicle was making a suicide attack. Bloodied bodies were seen being taken out of the bus, riddled with bullets.

Further south, U.S. soldiers fired on a car that failed to stop when a military convoy passed by, killing one Iraqi and critically injuring another near Rumaythah, 135 miles south of Baghdad.

Afterward, hundreds of Iraqis gathered at the site, chanting “Down with America. Down with Bush” and pelting U.S. soldiers and Dutch marines with rocks.

In northwest Baghdad, a homemade bomb exploded, killing an Estonian soldier. He was the first Estonian soldier killed by hostile fire since the country gained independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Members of the Iraqi Governing Council had been holding marathon meetings for days trying to overcome serious divisions in creating an interim constitution a key step in U.S. plans to hand over power to the Iraqis on June 30.

A Saturday deadline for announcing the charter passed without agreement. The interim constitution, which Mr. Bremer must approve, is to remain in place until a permanent charter is drawn up next year.

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