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Iraq: Key Talks Begin On Transitional Law

The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council has started discussions on the country's transitional law. The draft presented to the council envisions a three-person presidency, a legislature in which women hold 40 percent of the seats, and a bill of rights. If approved, the proposed law will become the framework for the country's government until the end of 2005, when a permanent government is due to be elected and a constitution adopted.

Prague, 4 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Iraqi Governing Council is debating a draft law for the country's future transitional government. The law will regulate the work of the government during the period from July 2004 to December 2005, when Iraq's permanent government is due to be elected.

Relatively little is known so far about the draft, which was written by Iraqi lawyers and advisors to the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. What is know is that the plan envisions a three-person presidency, a bill of rights, and a legislature in which women will hold 40 percent of the seats.

This week, Muhsin Abd al-Hamid -- the leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, an organization with close ties to the international Muslim Brotherhood movement -- succeeded Adnan Pachachi as the rotating president of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC).

Al-Hamid told RFE/RL the Iraqi Governing Council will study the draft until the end of the month. When and if it is adopted, it will lay foundations for the country's development in many areas -- including division of power and women's rights.
"The Governing Council is to study it until the end of the month. And hopefully, the draft will be adopted and lay foundations for the Iraqi state in many areas. Among them are human rights, women's rights, division of power, the role of Islam and many other areas," al-Hamid said.

Al-Hamid says that the draft envisages that women will comprise 40 percent of the legislature. But this and other points remain controversial. "Yes, divisions on the role of women exist. But we are negotiating the positions and are trying to bring them closer," he says. "We are discussing how women may participate in the society. There are differences on what could be implemented now and what can't. But it is possible to negotiate on that."

The three-person presidency looks to be another highly controversial issue.

The three presidents, selected by a transitional assembly, will appoint a prime minister and oversee day-to-day government operations. It is believed that the presidency will represent three main Iraqi communities -- Sunni Muslims, Shi'a Muslims, and Kurds -- and may help to balance power among them.

Critics say the move will only strengthen the divisions that already exist in Iraq.

The "Los Angeles Times" newspaper quotes IGC member Samir Shakir Mahmud as saying he wants "to get away from Sunni, Kurdish and Shiite divisions -- we should have an Iraqi president."

Feisal al-Istrabadi is the senior advisor to Adnan Pachachi on constitutional and legal affairs, and one of the lawyers who participated in drafting the transitional law. Al-Istrabadi says that the authors of the draft recommended a collective presidency, but did not insist on it being a Sunni-Shi'a-Kurd troika.

He says he hopes that "confessional and ethnic backgrounds will not enter into the calculation of whom to elect." He adds the idea of a collective presidency is not new, and was discussed by Iraqi exile groups before the overthrow of Hussein's regime.

Al-Istrabadi says the main aim of the future interim presidency is to ensure that no single person will wield unconditional power during the transitional period. "For the transitional period -- when, let's face it, after 35 years of misrule by Saddam Hussein and his cronies there is a lot of suspicion amongst people in Iraq, and people are tired of the notion of one person trying to seize control of the country -- it was felt that the more you diffuse power away from any one person or one center in the governmental structure, the better it is in the transitional period," al-Istrabadi said.

It is not clear how the presidency will function on behalf of a country divided along religious and national lines. Al-Istrabadi says decisions will be made by majority vote. "The decision of the presidency council will be by majority vote, two out of three members. The exception to that in the proposed draft is that the presidency council must unanimously agree on the prime minister whom they appoint," al-Istrabadi said.
"The Governing Council is to study it until the end of the month. And hopefully, the draft will be adopted and lay foundations for the Iraqi state in many areas."

Mahmud Uthman, a Kurdish member of the IGC, says the proposal may not work in practice. He says he is worried that Shi'as, who make up more than 60 percent of Iraq's population, may seek larger powers within the tripartite presidency.
The draft law also includes a bill of rights that guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of movement, the right to peaceful assembly, and the right to demonstrate and strike.

The draft marks a significant departure from the system that existed under Hussein. It protects Iraqi citizens from arbitrary arrest and detention, and grants them the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. It also bans the use of physical and psychological torture.

It remains unclear, however, to what degree the draft presented today will shape the future constitution. Governing Council member Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, who represents the Shi'a-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told RFE/RL more than one draft is being presented to the council.

Reports say some Shi'a clerics are demanding the transitional law include a provision naming Islam as the state religion.

(Radio Free Iraq, Sami Alkhoja in Baghdad, and RFE/RL correspondent Sergei Danilochkin contributed to this story.)