Iraqi Constitution: Better than Feared?
Amir Taheri believes most of the journalistic analysis of the Iraqi draft constitution suffers from pre-conceived bias against the war as well as a flawed understanding of Iraqi public opinion.
IRAQ’S CONSTITUTIONAL CHOICES (New York Post)
Even before its publication, the draft Iraqi constitution had been attacked by those who had opposed the liberation of Iraq in the first place.
The main attacks have focused on two issues:
Sunni outrage: The draft has angered Arab Sunni elites by proposing a federal structure for the new democratic state. But this is no way related to religious differences, as some nostalgics of Saddam Hussein in the West pretend.
But when all is said and done, the fact remains that a majority of Iraqis seem to prefer a federal structure Ã¢€” if only because they fear the return of despotism based on a strong central power in Baghdad. The least that anyone can do is to respect their views, even if one does not agree with them.
What of the claim, made in so many articles in the Western press in the past few days, that the Sunnis are enraged with the draft? The truth is that we do not know. Unlike the Shiite and Kurdish representatives, who were elected members of parliament, the Sunni politicians in the drafting committee were government appointees. (Having boycotted January’s general election, the Sunnis didn’t have enough parliamentarians to dispatch to the drafting committee.)
We shall have to wait until the Oct. 15 referendum on the constitution to find out whether a majority of Sunnis share the apprehensions of the Sunni politicos in the drafting committee. If they do, they could block the draft by voting against it: Four of Iraq’s 18 provinces have Arab Sunni majorities, and any two provinces can stop ratification by voting “no.”
The role of Islam: Many members of the drafting committee wanted Iraq to be re-named “The Islamic Republic of Iraq” Ã¢€” thus joining Pakistan, Iran, Sudan and Mauritania. The Iraqis, however, decided not to use the label “Islamic,” a sign that they don’t wish to set up a theocracy.
They did, however, acknowledge Islam as the religion of the state and a main source of legislation. Had they not done so, it would have been virtually impossible to persuade a majority of the Iraqis to vote for the new constitution.
Does this mean that the new constitution cannot be democratic? Not at all.
The draft recommits the nation to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (of which Iraq was one of the original signatories). While no legislation could directly contravene the principles of Islam, it is also clear that there could be no laws that violate basic human rights as spelled out in the Universal Declaration.
THE Iraqi draft is not ideal. It won’t turn Iraq into the Switzerland of the Mid dle East overnight. It includes articles that one could not accept without holding one’s nose. But the fact remains that this is still the most democratic constitution offered to any Muslim nation so far.
And the people of Iraq have the chance to reject it if they feel it doesn’t reflect their wishes. That, too, is a chance that few Muslim nations have enjoyed.
With the new constitution, Iraq is taking a giant leap away from despotism. Many had hoped that Iraq would take a bigger leap. But wishes, alas, are not horses, at least not in politics.
Michael Barone also points to some other articles by experts seemingly without a political axe to grind that are more optimistic than most press accounts (for an example of the less optimistic, see “Bush Steps In as Charter Talks in Iraq Reach Breaking Point” in today’s NYT).
Excellent pieces of the proposed Iraqi constitution [yesterday]Ã¢€”a column by David Brooks in the New York Times, and an editorial in the Wall Street Journal. Brooks points to the favorable opinions of Clinton administration Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who has worked hard for freedom for the Kurds for many years, and former CIA agent and American Enterprise Institute scholar Reuel Marc Gerecht, who knows Iraq well. Many in mainstream media profess to be fearful that the constitution will lead to theocracy in Iraq. Galbraith, who has been scathingly critical of the Bush administration on many counts, and Gerecht, who has been critical on occasion also, disagree.
They make the point that Iraqis are not necessarily going to make the same constitutional and policy choices that Americans would. This is of course true of other democracies. Britain has an established Church of England, and the prime minister effectively (and the Queen formally) chooses the Archbishop of Canterbury. Canada provides public funding for Catholic and other religious schools. France bans girls from wearing headscarves in schools. Germany prohibits the publication of Nazi materials. We don’t do any of these things, and most Americans wouldn’t want to. But who would argue that Britain, Canada, France, and Germany are not acceptable representative democracies with acceptable levels of human rights? They just have different histories and different traditions, and have made different choices.
I agree that many are holding the Iraqi constitutional convention to unreasonable standards given the country’s history, ethnic and regional squabbles, and lack of institutionalization. Still, the lack of backing by key Sunni leaders could be fatal. With the deadline extended yet another day, there’s still time.
More likely, though, another round of elections–hopefully with greater Sunni participation–may be needed to break the deadlock. It’s far too early to declare the mission of democratizing Iraq a failure. But let’s not pretend things are going as planned, either.