Whose law will govern in Iraq?

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In Islamic Iran the veil for women is prescribed. In secular Turkey it is proscribed.

The framers of the Iraqi constitution have been trying to navigate between the two.

Humam Hammoudi, chairman of the constitutional convention, himself a Shiite Arab, says, "There is no article to impose the veil and also there is none to prevent it."

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This is a kind of constitutional double-talk that only disguises the deeper conflict over whether majority rule will, under whatever disguise, end up as religious rule.

Iraq's interim charter contains compromise language describing Islam as "one main source" of Iraqi law. In the current draft for the new constitution, Islam is described as "the only source of law."

There are provisions allowing individuals to decide matters like divorce and inheritance by religious law if they so choose. One can imagine the pressures on those who choose civil law.

For the devout, there is no option but the application of religious law. Sharia (Islamic law) is part of their religion.

Trying to abolish civil law could well lead to civil war.

A theoretical solution would be a federal system, allowing different systems in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south.

But that would reinforce the tendency among the Shiites to be drawn to the magnet of Iran, which has already tried to exert influence in the area.

The Sunni Muslims appear to be ready to resist what would in effect be a partition of Iraq.

So Iraq is threatened with having a constitutional crisis even before it has a constitution.

And if the outcome is some form of Islamic state, then one would have to ask whether America invested so much of its blood and treasure only to replace a radical secular Saddam Hussein with another ayatollah-ruled Islamic state.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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