updated 2/18/2004 6:41:39 PM ET 2004-02-18T23:41:39

The president of Iraq’s Governing Council said Wednesday there was no final decision on the precise role of Islam in the country’s draft interim constitution, which is to take effect at the end of this month.

Mohsen Abdul-Hamid appeared to back away from an earlier demand when he called for Islam to be the principal basis for Iraq’s laws.

His remarks came two days after L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, suggested he would block any such move.

“This question has not reached its final stage,” Abdul-Hamid, a Sunni Muslim, told reporters. He said, however, that the majority in the Governing Council agreed that “Islam is the official state religion.”

He and another official, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite Muslim and spokesman for council member Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, stressed that at this stage, the draft interim charter says Islam is “a primary source of legislation” — as opposed to the primary source.

“It is still ‘a’ that’s in the draft,” said Abdul-Mahdi of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. “Bremer was in today’s Governing Council meeting and said that he generally agreed with this.”

Bremer must sign into law all measures passed by the 25-member council, including the interim constitution. Iraq’s powerful Shiite clergy, however, have demanded the document be approved by an elected legislature. Under U.S. plans, a permanent constitution would not be drawn up and voted on until 2005.

Conservative view of Islam
Abdel-Hamid, this month’s Governing Council president and a member of a drafting committee, said last week that he wanted “a constitution that represents the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people, with all the respect due to other identities.”

Abdul-Hamid heads the Iraqi Islamic Party, which espouses a conservative view of Islam.

His proposal could have broad effects on secular Iraq, taking away rights of women in divorce and inheritance cases, shuttering liquor stores and banning gambling, legal experts say.

Representatives of Iraq’s Kurdish and Christian parties, and those with liberal Western views, have voiced opposition to the Islamization of Iraq’s legal code.

To take effect, the Islamic law proposal would have to be approved by the framing committee and added to the transitional law, which must be accepted by the full Governing Council.

The transition law is to act as Iraq’s constitution until a permanent constitution replaces it, probably by 2005.

Balancing U.S., Sunni, Shiite interests
The United States has been trying to balance its plans for Iraq with the wishes of its Sunni and Shiite Muslim leaders.

Shiite leaders are challenging the U.S. plan to choose an interim government through regional caucuses, saying only direct elections are acceptable. The United States believes elections are not yet possible because of continuing violence and the difficulty of registering people and holding the vote.

The United Nations has sent an envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, to determine if early elections are possible. He is due to report his findings to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday.

Annan is expected to support the Bush administration’s advice against holding direct elections, but will delay other recommendations until he consults with other governments, a U.S. official said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Al-Hakim said Wednesday any future government must stem from the will of the people, or else Iraqis will be shoved aside as they were under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.

Al-Hakim spoke to more than 1,000 tribal leaders — including Sunnis and Shiites — bringing some sheiks to tears with his vows to fight for a united Iraq.

“The first foundation of the new Iraq must be a real dependence on the people. Otherwise the people would be marginalized as was the case in the past,” al-Hakim said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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