Don't Let Me Stop You

What the heck, you'll do what you want anyway.

Iraqi Constitution Birthing Pains

Posted by Dan Draney on August 18, 2005

The group writing the constitution for the new Iraq missed the deadline this week for completing the draft. We would have preferred it was finished on time, but getting it right is more important than meeting a date that is rather arbitrary. Kira Zalan has a thoughtful post about the situation on her blog, Us and Them: The Painful Birth of Iraq’s Constitution:

“The Iraqi parliament voted to extend the deadline on the charter for another seven days. The problem is not with taking a few days to agree on an extremely important document. Instead, it is the mentality with which negotiations are being approached. The unsettled issues are apparently the role of Islam, distribution of oil wealth and federalism. These are not insurmountable questions.

What is insurmountable is the mentality of ‘us and them.’ One Sunni member of the constitutional committee stated yesterday, ‘There were big points of disagreement, not between us and others but between the others themselves.’ This mentality of ‘us’ and ‘others’ is precisely the problem.

All three of the aforementioned issues (Islam, oil and federalism) are just the outcomes of a mentality of trying to grab the biggest piece of the pie based on tribal identity. This mentality is prevalent in societies where ethnic, cultural or religious diversity have been exploited for political gains. The direct outcome is usually a quest by the exploited for reparations or revenge. Instead of moving on to create a new start with a strong foundation, embattled societies often wallow in their pain and miss their chance at success.”

We’re not so pessimistic about the outcome at this point, but she has a good point about the nature of the underlying problem. The difficulty in getting the Iraqi military up to speed and the problems of corruption in general are part of the same package. For Iraq, like the rest of the Middle East, power has long been seen as a license to enrich yourself and your friends. Many Iraqis are not succumbing to this, but it’s hard to overcome old habits.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has a more optimistic view on the prospects for compromise on the Iraqi constitution:

“At least the last-minute brinksmanship doesn’t appear to be about religion, despite repeated alarms in the U.S. about the rise of a Shiite ‘theocracy.’ Most of the Iraqi framers seem to agree with constitutional language asserting that Islam will be ‘a’–not ‘the’–principle source of legislation. This is not so different from the vague appeals to divine providence found in some of America’s founding documents, and certainly is no reason to fear Iranian-style clerical dominance. On both family law and women’s rights, as well, compromises appear to be within reach.

The really tough disputes are over federalism and its corollary of sharing oil revenues. ‘Get those right and everything else falls into place,’ one Iraqi insider tells our Robert Pollock, who is reporting from Baghdad. By federalism we mean a political system modeled more or less on the United States of America, in which power is shared between a central government and the provinces. The name ‘United States of Iraq’ was actually proposed inside the Iraqi meetings, and no wonder given the terrible experience that Kurdish and Shiite Iraqis had under Saddam Hussein.”

The very fact that these differences are being hashed out peacefully, at the negotiating table is almost astounding, given the history of the region. Strong regional governments and a weak central government would not necessarily be A Bad Thing. That’s the way the USA began, after all.

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