by MONITOR l THE hope created in Iraq by Monday's agreement on an interim constitution was quickly doused by yesterday's terrible carnage caused by the bombings at Karbala and Baghdad. The attack at Karbala was particularly cruel since it was directed against tens of thousands of Shia Muslims celebrating a Holy Day which had been suppressed under Saddam Hussein's rule. It is too soon to say who was responsible for this act of terrorism although a known al-Qaeda operator is suspected; it would therefore be wrong to link the atrocity in any way to the successful conclusion of the negotiations on an interim constitution. Nonetheless it proved, if proof were needed, what a knife-edge Iraq continues to live on and how easily the best intentions of those who want stability can be foiled. THE interim constitution, which will take Iraq through its period of self-government from 1 July to the first general election at the end of 2004 or early in 2005, is due to be signed today by all the members of the Iraq Governing Council, the body responsible for drawing it up. Given the circumstances, it is a remarkably positive document. It envisages a republican, federal government; a democratically elected parliament in which women will have at least 25 per cent of the seats; a Bill of Rights and an independent judiciary. The two issues that might have proved insoluble the status of Islam and the position of the Kurds - have been resolved by compromise. Islam will be the state's official religion but a main source for legislation rather than the main source; the Kurds will keep the autonomy they have enjoyed for the past decade. There is a long, long way to go. But it is a promising start.