The landmark document signed Monday by Iraq's Governing Council could prove to be a truly epic moment in world history the birth of the Mideast's first democratic constitutional republic outside of Israel.
It simply depends on whether the Iraqis know what to do with it.
The signing had been on-and-off for several days, as majority Shiites were unhappy with parts of the interim constitution.
Also, al-Qaida and terrorist allies moved to disrupt the signing, mounting suicide and rocket attacks on Shiite shrines that killed scores of people. Ironically, the tactic backfired. Instead of intimidating the proceedings, it spurred Shiite council members to sign on, despite some unresolved issues, in order to preserve unity.
"There is no doubt that this document will strengthen Iraqi unity in a way never seen before," said a Kurdish leader. "This is the first time that we Kurds feel that we are citizens of Iraq."
The signing, attended by top U.S. military and civilian officials, marks a key step in the U.S.-led coalition's plans to hand over power to the Iraqis by July 1.
The interim charter, which includes a 13-article bill of rights, enshrines Islam as one of the bases of law, but not the only one, and outlines the shape of a parliament and presidency as well as a federal structure. It stays in effect until a permanent constitution is approved by a national referendum planned for late 2005.
The document makes sure that no one group Shiites, Sunnis or Kurds is able to dominate the others. And minority rights also include women, who must be guaranteed at least 25 percent of seats in the parliament.
There are still many problems to be worked out in Iraq, but the interim constitution is a historic step in the right direction.
Augusta Chronicle - March 9
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