FROM Baghdad to Washington DC, via London, a huge sigh of relief must have been heard yesterday when each of the 25 members of the Iraq Governing Council signed the interim constitution for a new Iraq. Getting to this point, even though it is by no means the end of a difficult journey, has been a cliff-hanging experience. In the first place the Council failed to meet the deadline set by the United States for the finalisation of the constitutional proposals, raising fears that insuperable difficulties had been encountered. When the document was finally agreed the signing had to be postponed because of a bomb attack on Shia Muslims on their most Holy Day. Last Friday the postponed signing ceremony had to be abandoned when the five Shia representatives on the Council failed to appear because of reservations about some of the provisions in the constitution. Intense negotiations over the weekend resolved these difficulties without any change to the wording and the signing finally took place yesterday afternoon. Although the last–minute delaying tactics practised by the Shias must have annoyed the other members of the Iraq Governing Council and the occupying Coalition authorities, they may have served a useful purpose as an antidote to excessive euphoria over the interim constitution. Even as it was being signed in Baghdad the Ayatollah al-Sistani, the Shia's religious leader, put a statement on his website saying: “Any law prepared for the transitional period will not have legitimacy until it is approved by the elected national assembly”. The Ayatollah was warning that anything done by the transitional government that takes over the country on 1 July can only be provisional in character until elections take place at the end of the year - when the real bargaining will begin.


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