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Iraqi Shi'ite Leaders Consult Over Interim Constitution

Al-Najaf, 6 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Leading Shi'ite members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council today met with aides to the country's top Shi'ite cleric in an attempt to reach a deal on an interim constitution.

The signing ceremony of the document was postponed at the last minute yesterday by Shi'ite members who apparently disagreed with sections related to Kurdish autonomy.

The talks today in Al-Najaf were between several Shi'ite council members and the son of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, along with other Shi'ite religious leaders. It was not clear if the council members will meet with al-Sistani.

Council president Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, a Shi'ite cleric, said after the talks that he is "sure that any objections can be resolved."

Earlier today, al-Ulum said he expects the constitution to be signed on 8 March. The document is considered a key step toward preparing for the scheduled U.S. handover of political power in Iraq on 30 June.

Copyright (c) 2004. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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