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Iraq Issues: Interim Constitution

In March 2004 the Iraqi Governing Council approved an interim constitution, or transitional administrative law, for Iraq. The interim constitution included a bill of rights, guaranteeing individual rights of free speech and freedom of religion. It was hailed as one of the most democratic documents in the region. Radical Islamic fundamentalists rejected the constitution, however, because it was drafted under foreign occupation and because it failed to declare that Islamic law is the only source of legislation. More moderate Muslim leaders, such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other senior Shia clerics, objected to portions of the constitution that allowed a large minority group, such as the Kurds, to have veto power over government decisions and a permanent constitution.

Transition to Civilian Rule In Iraq

On June 1, 2004, the Iraqi Governing Council announced the formation of a new interim government and dissolved itself. This new government was led by a Shia Muslim prime minister named lyad Allawi and a Sunni Muslim president, Sheik Ghazi al-Yawar. On June 28 Bremer dissolved the Coalition Provisional Authority, formally transferred sovereignty to the new Iraqi government, and left the country. However, coalition military forces remained in place in Iraq.

General elections to select a transitional Iraqi National Assembly were held at the end of January 2005. A Shia coalition backed by cleric al-Sistani won 48 percent of the vote, followed by the Kurdistan Alliance (a coalition of the Kurdistãn Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) with 26 percent and interim prime minister Allawi’s political group with 14 percent. About 58 percent of registered Iraqi voters participated in the election, which was boycotted by many of the nation’s Sunnis. In April the National Assembly selected Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as Iraq’s new president, and Talabani named Shia leader lbrahim aI-Jaafari the country’s new prime minister.

In October 2005 Iraqi voters approved a new, permanent constitution to replace the interim constitution adopted in June 2004. Voters in provinces largely populated by Shias and Kurds, who represent 80 percent of Iraq’s population, overwhelmingly approved the constitution. The electoral laws permitted a rejection of the constitution if two-thirds of voters in three provinces voted against it. Voters in two Sunni-dominated provinces voted no by margins of more than two-thirds, but in a third Sunni-majority province, Nineveh, only 55 percent voted against, failing to reach the two-thirds majority required for rejection. The adoption of the constitution paved the way for elections to Iraq’s new parliament in December.

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