Iraqi Governing Council Signs Interim ConstitutionBy Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service WASHINGTON, March 8, 2004 -- The Iraqi Governing Council celebrated today what council president Mohammed Bahr al-Ulloum called "a historic moment, decisive in the history of Iraq" by signing an interim constitution in Baghdad.
The new "Transitional Administrative Law" will serve as Iraq's constitution between June 30, when the Coalition Provisional Authority returns sovereignty to the Iraqi people, and completion of a permanent constitution by a directly elected parliament.
During a ceremony today in Baghdad, 25 council members signed the 25-page interim constitution that senior council member Adnan Pachachi called "a beacon of light and hope for future generations."
The document includes a 13-article bill of rights that guarantees basic rights to all Iraqis. This includes the rights to freedom of religion and worship, to free expression, to peacefully assemble and demonstrate, to organize political parties and to form and join unions. It also guarantees the right to equal treatment under the law and prohibits discrimination based on gender, nationality, religion or origin.
The interim constitution also offers important protections to a population subjected to decades of Saddam Hussein's brutality: protection from arbitrary arrest or detention and the guarantee of a fair, speedy and open trial.
Pachachi dismissed assertions that Iraq's bill of rights reflects values copied from the United States and other Western countries, calling them "universal" rights that should protect the rights all people.
Bahr al-Ulloum and other council members thanked the United States, Great Britain and other members of the coalition for helping Iraq reach today's signing ceremony, which he called "a glorious moment in history" for Iraq.
Massoud Barzani, a Kurdish leader in the council, specifically thanked President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for their contributions and expressed sympathy to all coalition soldiers who have died liberating and helping to rebuild Iraq.
He said the interim constitution "will strengthen Iraqi unity in a way never seen before," adding that "this is the first time that we Kurds feel that we are citizens of Iraq."
The council had originally scheduled the signing ceremony for March 3, but postponed it out of respect for the mourning period for Iraqis lost in the March 2 terrorist attacks in Baghdad and Karbala.
The signing, rescheduled for March 5, was delayed yet again after a few members of the council expressed concerns about one specific provision in the document.
Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, called this debate an example of democracy in action in Iraq.
"What we've seen over this weekend is the birth pains of a democracy," Bremer said this morning during an interview with CBS. "Democracy is not always the most efficient form of government. In fact, Winston Churchill used to say it's the worst form of government -- except every other kind. It's not tidy. We know that."
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