Iraqi leaders sign charter

The Council cast aside its communal and religious differences to sign the groundbreaking document after several delays.

Council members hailed the document, saying it enshrines basic freedoms and the protection of human rights in Iraq after decades of living under former dictator Saddam Hussein.

But the country’s top Shi’ite cleric has refused to endorse the interim charter.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who holds sway over the country’s 60 percent Shi’ite majority, said the document would make it harder for Iraq to agree on a permanent constitution, a crucial foundation for democracy.

Ayatollah Sistani’s objections to the document forced the signing of the constitution to be abandoned at the last minute on Friday, when five Shi’ite council members backed out of the ceremony.

After talks on the weekend with Ayatollah Sistani and other clerics in the holy city of Najaf, officials went ahead with the signing on Monday Iraqi time.

The Shi’ite politicians said Ayatollah Sistani gave them the go-ahead to sign despite his objections because he did not want to seem to be blocking progress.

Blasts rang out across Baghdad just before the signing, as a crowd of children dressed in Iraqi national costumes sang traditional songs to assembled dignitaries at the ceremony.

Police said insurgents fired mortars at a police station, wounding three civilians and two policemen. Security forces had been on high alert for attacks aimed at disrupting the signing.

Iraq’s US governor, Paul Bremer, also hailed the agreement and noted the difficulties it had faced.

“We are witnessing the birth of democracy and birth is painful, as we’ve learned over the last few evenings,” he told the council.

“Not everyone got everything they wanted in this law – that’s the way of democracy.”

The act also clears a major hurdle in Washington’s plans to hand power back to a sovereign Iraqi Government at the end of June, after missing the original deadline last month.

It will last until a permanent charter is drawn up by a new parliament directly elected by the people before the end of January next year.

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