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America Says it Will Approve Temporary Iraqi Constitution

By Dexter Filkins

The New York Times -- BAGHDAD

American officials said Monday they would approve a temporary Iraqi constitution hammered out during an overnight session early Monday morning, all but ensuring that the document would serve as the framework for a new Iraqi state.

But the celebratory mood was muted by the knowledge that Iraqi leaders had put off for later many of the most intractable issues. The negotiators struck several important compromises, including those on women’s rights and the role of Islam. But they deferred issues like the disarming of private militias, the composition of the interim government that will take charge on June 30, and a mechanism for elections.

“This is a major achievement, only a day late, which I think is terrific,” Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said during an appearance on the CBS “Early Show,” referring to the Feb. 28 deadline.

The relief among the Americans was matched by the excitement that swept Iraq’s government Monday afternoon.

“This is a great day in the history of Iraq, an unforgettable day,” said Adnan Pachachi, the 80-year-old former foreign minister who began his diplomatic career when Iraq was ruled by a king. “It is a unique day perhaps in the history of the whole region.”

The interim constitution, which is likely to remain in force until the end of 2005, grants broad protections for individuals within a federal system designed to hold the country’s fractious parts together. The Iraqi leaders said they would gather to sign the new constitution on Wednesday, following the Shiite holiday of Ashoura, which began in Karbala with a procession on Monday.

The 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council, appointed by the Americans last summer, had tried at different times to resolve the outstanding issues but found that the conflicts they created had threatened to scuttle the rest of the constitution.

The agreement struck on Monday grants broad autonomy to the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, which has been largely governing itself since the end of the 1991 Gulf War.