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Official: Iraqi Council Won't Pass Constitution In Time

Baghdad, 28 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A coalition official said today that the Iraqi Governing Council is unlikely to meet a midnight deadline to approve an interim constitution.

Coalition spokesman Jared Young told journalists he believed there would be no document issued today.

Despite Young's statement, the council was continuing to work today in hopes of being able to approve the interim constitution as soon as possible. The document is meant to pave the way for a transfer of authority from the U.S.-led civil administration to Iraqi sovereignty on 30 June.

Differences among council members over key issues such as the role of Islam and the extent of Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq caused some members to walk out of negotiations yesterday.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Planning Minister Mehdi al-Hafedh says he has won assurances from creditor nations that they will consider forgiving Iraq up to 60 percent of its $120 billion foreign debt.

The minister made the announcement at a donor conference on Iraq being held in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. In addition to debt forgiveness, Iraq is urging participating countries at the conference to disburse $4 billion over the next 12 months for key reconstruction projects.

Al-Hafedh said it was "high time" promises of aid made at a conference last October in Madrid were honored. Donor countries then pledged $33 billion for Iraq's reconstruction.

The United States, European Union, and Japan -- as well as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations -- are among those represented at the Abu Dhabi conference, which is scheduled to continue until tomorrow.