A New Beginning for Iraq
By Rachel Laskow

Representative of the Iraqi Governing Council, Raja' al-Khuzai, signs the new constitution in Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday, March 8, 2004. Under the new constitution, the National Assembly will be elected by the people of Iraq and at least one quarter of its members must be women. (© Nabil Mounzer/AP Wide World/EPA)

Tuesday, March 9—The Iraqi Governing Council approved a new constitution for Iraq yesterday. The constitution is a big step toward future elections, a permanent constitution, and eventually the country's own government.

"Here we are today standing in a historical moment to lay the strong foundation for rebuilding a new Iraq," said governing council President Sayyed Mohammad Bahr al-Uloum. "A new, free, democratic Iraq that protects the dignity of the human being and protects human rights."

This constitution is important for Iraq because it sets goals and laws for the country. For example, it calls for elections no later than January 31, 2005. The constitution also says Islam is one of the bases of law in Iraq, and it also outlines a governing body for the country. The people of Iraq are independent and free, under the new constitution, and all Iraqis will have equal rights.

Opposition

The signing ceremony, which took place in Baghdad, was postponed for nearly one week because of violence and objections from Shiite leaders. Shiites make up about two-thirds of Iraqi Muslims, but have had less power in the country than the Sunnis, another branch of Islam.

The Shiite leaders wanted parts of the constitution changed. They felt one clause gave Kurds too much power. The Kurds make up Iraq's largest minority group.

But after receiving other approval from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most powerful Shiite leader, the Shiite leaders agreed to support the constitution. The leaders said al-Sistani agreed to approve the document because he felt it was better for the Iraqis to get some sort of constitution, rather than none at all.

"There is no doubt that this document will strengthen Iraqi unity in a way never seen before," said Massoud Barzani, a Kurdish leader on the 25-member governing council. "This is the first time that we Kurds feel that we are citizens of Iraq."

The Future

The interim, or temporary, constitution will go into effect when L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, approves it. It will remain in place until a permanent constitution is approved by a national vote, which is scheduled to happen no later than December 31, 2005.

U.S. officials are also still working to create an Iraqi government that will take power on June 30. The government will rule until national elections are held.