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Major provisions of Iraq's proposed constitution

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Iraqis got their first look at the proposed constitution this week, as food-ration centers began distributing U.N.-published copies of the document throughout the country.

Some picked up the 52-page booklets with their monthly food stipends; others made special trips to the ration center to get their copies. In some cases, sheiks distributed copies to their followers.

The United Nations printed 5 million copies of the document for residents to review before the Oct. 15 referendum.

The proposed constitution guarantees many of the same rights as the U.S. Constitution—freedom of the press, religion and speech, and due process.

It bans torture and forcing residents to join a political party, which was common under former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime.

It also deals with modern-day issues. One article, for example, guarantees compensation to families who lose loved ones in terrorist acts.

In all, there are 139 articles.

"What I like ... is that it ensures rights of all Iraqi people," said Mohammad Saber, 30, a store owner in Baghdad. "I think it's going to organize our lives and guarantee our sons a better future. There will be no dictatorship anymore; rather we are going to live in democracy."

On the controversial subject of Iraq's national identity, the draft first mentions Iraq's role in the Islamic world, before referring to Iraq's membership in the Arab League. There's no specific mention of Iraq being an Arab nation, in deference to the non-Arab Kurds.

The document is vague on some key questions, such as how the nation should balance the roles of the central and regional governments; how the president and prime minister should work together; and how the government should create democratic laws that respect Islam.

Lawmakers said such decisions would be up to the next government, to be elected Dec. 15.

These are the constitution's major provisions:

_The executive branch: There's a prime minister and president. The legislative body chooses the president for a four-year term. He's the "symbol of the nation's unity," endorses international agreements and treaties, receives ambassadors and convenes the legislative body.

The president also names the prime minister, and the prime minister names his Cabinet, subject to legislative approval. Once approved, the prime minister is in charge of "the general policy of the nation." He also leads the military forces.

_The legislative branch: The constitution calls for a unicameral body with one seat representing 100,000 citizens, or a total of 275 seats, elected by a "general, direct, secret ballot." It must meet for eight months a year. It writes laws, oversees the executive authority and approves the appointments of judges, ambassadors and top military officers. Members enjoy immunity from prosecution unless charged with felony offenses and a majority of legislators agree to strip those members of immunity.

_The judiciary branch: The judiciary system is an independent entity separate from the Ministry of Justice, which is under the prime minister's office. There will be the Iraq equivalent of a U.S. Supreme Court, federal courts and prosecutors' offices. The proposed Supreme Federal Court will be in charge of interpreting the constitution.

_Islam: Islam is the official religion of the state. No law can contradict the "undisputed laws of Islam," but all laws must be democratic. The regular court system will rule on un-Islamic law, making enforcement ultimately responsible to voters and not religious leaders.

"The two parameters are not contradicting each other but instead represent a unique case where Islam and democracy are merged," said Abbas al-Bayati, a National Assembly member who represents the Islamic Union for the Turkmen of Iraq.

_Federalism: The constitution endorses the Kurdish region remaining an autonomous region. It also allows other provinces to group together and become autonomous regions. To do so, one-third of provincial leaders must endorse the new region or one-tenth of voters in a province must agree to the proposed region. The new region can craft its own constitution as long as it doesn't contradict the nation's governing document. And it will be in charge of local security.

The region must share revenue from its natural resources with the central government, the constitution says.

But the details are vague and the new legislative body must create a law in its first six months that spells out the regions' relationship with the executive branch of government.

_The Baath Party: The constitution calls for the government to continue weeding out prominent Baathist elements from Saddam's former regime, while allowing low-level Baath Party members to continue playing political roles.

_Women's rights: The constitution doesn't deal with women's issues explicitly except to say that laws will be applied equally, regardless of sex, sect, religion, nationality or economic status. And it says that "equality opportunity is a right guaranteed to all Iraqis, and the state shall take necessary steps to achieve this."


(Mukhtar is a special correspondent.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.