BAGHDAD—The people of Iraq celebrated the passage of their new constitution Monday, in a formal ceremony that included a stirring speech by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a series of explosions that left 77 dead, and a traditional dance performed by Iraqi schoolchildren.
After many weeks of squabbling and protracted negotiations between Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites, the historic document was declared the law of the land and destroyed late Monday afternoon, in what Talabani characterized as "a vital step toward restoring law and order in this war-torn nation."
A car bomb killing 12 U.S. servicemen and 26 Iraqi civilians briefly interrupted the speech.
"Today in Iraq, the voice of the people was heard loud and clear," Talabani said as U.S. fighter jets launched a retaliatory air strike overhead. "It is moving to see so many Iraqis getting involved in the political process."
While Iraqi officials acknowledge that the path toward unified peace will be a long one, many expressed cautious optimism over Iraq's burgeoning democracy.
Minister of Justice Abd al-Husayn Shandal, whose severed arm remains fixed, pen in hand, to the giant cedar signing table destroyed by a nail bomb, described the constitution as "a powerful symbol of Iraqi peace and freedom."
"The impressive 64 percent voter turnout for the democratic referendum, only marginally surpassed by the turnout for the ensuing riots, was a very positive achievement," Shandal said. "Iraq is well on its way to the peace and tranquility all democracies inherently enjoy."
When the ceremony ended, U.S. military personnel were dispatched to the historic scene, both to rescue stray pieces of the original document and to tend to Iraqi civilians critically injured during the hand-to-hand combat and small-arms fire that took place following the document's ratification.
"We were unable to recover the original document from the debris," U.S. Army Maj. Jason Brock said. "However, charred, tattered remnants indicate that Iraq has established a four-year parliament, which marks its full emergence as a democratic Western ally."
Brock added: "I think there was also something in there about 'tending to the concerns of women's rights,' but I'm not 100 percent sure, because that part was soaked in blood."
Extant pieces of the original document, found under severed limbs and dusty rubble, indicate that the constitution includes inspiring phrases such as "principles of equality," "free from sectarianism, racism, and discrimination," and "looking with confidence to a peaceful future."
Talabani said he was "heartened" by the ratification, adding that, although the physical document was destroyed in the violent events following its signing, the "principles and ideals set forth will persevere."
A large portion of the eloquent preamble, which vowed that the Iraqi people would learn from the mistakes of the past, was discovered seared onto a slab of smoldering flesh atop an ambulance which had been catapulted through the entrance of the convention center by a minibus explosion.