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Shiites Balk at Signing Iraqi Interim Constitution

Shiites Balk at Signing Iraqi Interim Constitution

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- The signing of Iraq's interim constitution was delayed indefinitely Friday after five Shiite members of the Governing Council rejected concessions made to Kurds and the makeup of the presidency.

The council agreed to the accord unanimously Monday. But Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, rejected provisions put into the text at the Kurds' request, said a source in the council, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The marja'iya (al-Sistani's office) will not accept it," the source said.

The Shiites' move threw a signing ceremony set for Friday into disarray. The ceremony was put on hold with officials waiting in front of a stage set up in Baghdad's convention center, 25 fountain pens sitting on an antique desk for the members to use to ink the deal. It was not immediately known when the signing would take place.

"There are some reservations. We are trying to sort the problems out now," said Hamed al-Bayati, an adviser in the Shiite Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the parties that refused to sign the charter.

Al-Bayati said the Shiites' concerns focused on clauses in the deal that the Kurds wanted in order to ensure that the eventual permanent constitution, to be put to a national referendum, does not encroach on their self-rule zone in the north.

The clauses say that if two-thirds of the voters in any three provinces reject the permanent charter, it will not got into effect. The Kurd self-rule region includes three provinces in the north.

"Some of these provinces have only 400,000 or 500,000 people. We cannot have that number of people rejecting a constitution for 25 million people," al-Bayati said.

Another cause of dispute was the makeup of the presidency. The draft that the Governing Council -- including the Shiite parties -- agreed to set up a single president with two deputies.

The council members that refused to sign were Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council, Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Dawa party and the current council president Shiite cleric Muhammad Bahr al-Ulloom.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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