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Philadelphia in Baghdad

The "cradle of civilization," as the ancient land of Iraq is known, could soon rock the Arab and Islamic world.

An interim constitution approved Monday by the US-controlled Iraqi Governing Council includes rights, power-sharing, and freedoms mind-boggling to most Arabs, who mainly live under authoritarian regimes.

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And the fact that the 25-member council, made up of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, all subsumed their religious or ethnic identities to Iraqi unity and shared principles is an encouraging sign that Iraq could become a model of governance in the region.

The most difficult issue - the role of Islam - was handled by a compromise that calls for no law to be passed that would contradict the basic tenets of Islam. That's better than integrating Islamic law into a constitution.

Iraqis still need to make this document their own, because the US had a heavy hand in its making. Elections by next January will create a government that can craft a more legitimate document. With Shiites in the majority, there's still a chance that Islamic law could be made the law of the land.

The second-biggest compromise was to allow ethnic Kurds in the north to have their own militias and a great deal of autonomy. Many issues still need to be resolved, but for now these concessions can keep Iraq whole.

The council also set a goal (rather than a quota) for 25 percent (rather than 40 percent) of legislative seats to be filled by women. If successful, Iraq would be far ahead of the US on that.

The council's success bodes well for the next step of forming a post- occupation government. With the principles set, the normal politics of an unnormal Arab democracy can now begin to blossom.


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