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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Interim Triumph for the Iraqis

This week's agreement on Iraq's transitional constitution is an important achievement. It is the first real political success of the U.S.-led occupation authority, almost a year after the Anglo-American invasion that brought down Saddam Hussein.

But, above all, it is a triumph for the Iraqis. It embodies a rare spirit of compromise in a region where politics are usually conducted as a zero-sum, all-or-nothing and frequently very bloody game.

The document itself is a good working blueprint for a country yearning to put behind it a history of tyranny and colonial meddling. It provides for a federal and democratic republic, with judicial independence, equality of the sexes and an army and intelligence services under civilian control and parliamentary scrutiny. The proto-constitution or basic law also incorporates a bill of rights -- most of which are absolute, and not therefore dependent on implementing legislation.

Importantly, it is an attempt by the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds -- peoples bolted together by the British from the debris of the Ottoman Empire after World War I -- to embrace a system that safeguards minority as well as majority rights.

The leadership of the Shia, the downtrodden majority swindled out of power by the British colonial powers and subsequent Sunni minority regimes, had to swallow particularly hard. Their main religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, accepted Islam's being characterized as "a source of legislation" -- balanced by the full panoply of democratic freedoms -- rather than the fount of law. But he and other Shia leaders have made clear they plan to revisit two crucial provisions when an elected assembly starts writing a permanent constitution next year.

These allow any three of Iraq's 18 provinces that can muster a two-thirds majority to veto the future charter, and for a president -- assuredly a Shia -- who can decide only in unanimity with two deputies (presumably Sunni and Kurdish). While this laudably attempts to enshrine guarantees for the Sunni minority and Kurdish autonomy, it is also an attempt by a body appointed by the occupation to preempt decisions of an assembly yet to be elected.

This is something Iraqis will have to work out for themselves. The main job of the occupation forces during the transition should be to get a grip on a security situation that is spiraling out of control.

Last week's appalling carnage at Shia shrines in Karbala and Baghdad -- of a piece with the devastating bombings of Kurdish institutions in Arbil last month -- reveal a pitiless but coherent strategy. The insurgent alliance of displaced Sunnis and Islamists is trying to spark a Lebanon-style sectarian war or, short of that, to force each community back into its sectarian shell. Clever drafting, in an interim, draft constitution, has its uses. Security is what is needed to prevent the bombers getting their way.

This comment appeared as an editorial in the Financial Times.