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Al-Sistani Criticizes Iraq's Interim Constitution

Baghdad, 8 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Hours after members of the U.S.-installed Governing Council signed the country's interim constitution in Baghdad, Iraq's top Shi'a Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called the Transitional Administrative Law an "obstacle" to a permanent constitution.

Shi'a leaders previously had objected to the new charter for a clause that enables the Sunni and Kurdish minority to veto the permanent constitution. Al-Sistani also insisted that only an elected body should sign further legislation in Iraq.

Members of the Governing Council and other Iraqi officials today praised the new charter. Hoshyar Zebari, foreign minister in the transitional cabinet, called the signing a key milestone toward the handover of civil authority by occupation authorities, planned for the end of June.

"It's a new beginning for Iraq, it's the beginning of rebuilding the Iraqi state on a new basis, a new tenet -- a state of law, a state of democratic institutions, a state of equality, a state of the bill of rights. I think this framework is essential for rebuilding Iraq," Zebari said.

The document provides for a federal state with two official languages, Arabic and Kurdish, where Islam will be one, but not be the main source of legislation. It also includes a bill of rights.

The signing of the interim constitution in Iraq has been postponed twice -- once after a series of bomb explosions targeting Shi'ites and again after Shi'ites on the council expressed concerns with the terms.