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Iraq: IGC Member Discusses Role Of Shari'a Law In Interim Constitution

  • Charles Recknagel

The role of Shari'a law in a future Iraq has emerged as one of several key questions the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council is debating as it formulates a "Basic Law" to serve as the interim constitution for the country. RFE/RL speaks with Mahmud Uthman, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, to learn where the discussion stands.

Prague, 17 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) is wrestling with what role to give Islamic law -- or Shari'a -- in Iraq as it discusses a new "Basic Law" to serve as the country's interim constitution.

The Basic Law is an effort to provide a legal framework for forming the Iraqi sovereign government, to which the U.S. is due to hand over political power by 30 June. The interim document will remain in effect until a permanent constitution is written under the auspices of the new sovereign administration and ratified by voters in late 2005.

To learn more about how the discussions on the role of Shari'a in the interim constitution are proceeding, RFE/RL spoke today with Mahmud Uthman, a Kurdish member of the IGC.

Uthman says that the IGC, which began its formal article-by-article discussion of the draft Basic Law today -- has yet to consider the clause regarding Shari'a. That clause recognizes Islam as the religion of Iraq and Shari'a as one source -- but not the sole source -- of the country's laws.

"It is proposed that Islam is the religion of the state and that the law respects all other religions and sects. And at the same time, it says that Shari'a law is one of the main sources of legislation -- one of the main sources, not the main source," Uthman said.

Uthman says that the IGC will probably begin deliberations about the Shari'a clause within the next few days. He says he expects some debate on the wording of the clause, because Islamist parties want to give more weight to Islamic law in Iraq.

"I expect Islamic parties to want to have more of this article -- or, to put it [another way], to give Shari'a more [of a central role] in law. So, I don't know what will happen in the discussions, but I expect that this paragraph will stay almost as it is, which is sort of a [compromise] between the people who are the secular and the Islamic ones, actually," Uthman said.

The independent Kurdish politician also says that on the issue of Shari'a, secularists hold the majority within the IGC.

"It is proposed that Islam is the religion of the state and that the law respects all other religions and sects."
"The Islamists are not the majority,” he says. “When we vote, the secular ones are more than the Islamic ones. So I hope and I think that [the wording] will be kept as it is."

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, has suggested that he would use his veto power over the IGC to block any charter making Shari'a law the principal basis of Iraqi legislation.

Asked by reporters in Baghdad what he would do if the interim constitution included such a provision, Bremer said, "our position is clear -- it can't be law until I sign it."

Bremer must sign all measures passed by the 25-member council before they can go into effect. Earlier this month, 45 members of the U.S. House of Representatives urged President George W. Bush to protect the rights of Iraqi women. Under many interpretations of Shari'a, women would have fewer rights in divorce and inheritance cases than they do under Iraq's existing secular-based legal system.

Islamist representatives on the council last month pushed through a bill to make it possible to apply Islamic law instead of civil statutes in domestic cases such as divorce and inheritance. That bill, fiercely opposed by many Iraqi professional women, has not been signed into law by Bremer.
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