Financial Times reports,

Iraq’s Governing Council on Wednesday defended its approval of a controversial family law that would make it possible to apply Islamic law – Sharia – instead of civil statute in domestic matters such as inheritance and divorce.

Opponents, mainly Iraqi women’s groups, say the measure is a sop to Islamic clerics, who are holding up agreement on the national political process.

Hamid Kifa’i, Governing Council spokesman, denied the text, which was approved with no announcement, was part of a political deal with clerics. “It is not a concession to fundamentalists, we don’t have fundamentalists in Iraq,” he said.

He added that Paul Bremer, the top US administrator in Baghdad, had not signed the measure and that without the signature it would not take effect before June 30 at the earliest, when sovereignty is due to be transferred to an Iraqi provisional government.

Kevin Drum wonders whether full-blown theocracy is far behind.

This is probably a foreshadowing of the tension between democracy and liberalism in Iraq that’s been inevitable from the start: if it’s truly the kind of democracy the neocons originally envisioned, it’s likely that Iraqis will vote to implement an Islamic theocracy of some kind. It may not be as fundamentalist as, say, Iran, but that’s liable to be small comfort once they decide they’ve had enough and start warming up the clan leaders to kick us out.

Not exactly what we had in mind when we invaded, I think.

I must admit, this move is somewhat discouraging. Aside from partitioning Iraq, at least on a very strong federal or even confederal model, I’m not sure how democracy and secularism are going to be compatible there. Unless we’re willing, as we were in Japan, to simply write their constitution for them and impose our values–and we seem, oddly, not willing–then I don’t see how we avoid sharia given a Shi’a majority.

While I fully admit I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, I see no indication that we’ve crafted the institutions for a stable Iraqi democracy. Why haven’t we essentially written their constitution for them as we did in postwar Germany and Japan? We went to war for regime change. We’ve accomplished that in the literal sense of toppling and eventually arresting Saddam Hussein. But it’s not clear to me what we’ve done to ensure that the follow-on regime will be one to our liking.

I understand that we don’t want to alienate the other Arab states by appearing too heavyhanded. But we did, after all, launch a pre-emptive war to oust an Arab dictator and now have an army of occupation in the cradle of civilization. At this point, the primary objective has to be the creation of a system that gives Iraq the best possible chance we can give them to function as a stable democracy once we hand over the reins of power.

(1550): Matt Yglesias has more.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kevin Drum says:

    I think that’s the basic contradiction. In the long run, the whole point is to change attitudes, but you can’t do that if you impose a constitution. All it would do is convince the surrounding states once and for all that America’s real goal is to come over and force them to adopt western values.

    But if you don’t, you get an Islamic republic.

    Political snarking aside, it’s an almost impossible circle to square. At least in the short run.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I have my doubts as well. And, certainly, Iraq isn’t exactly postwar Germany or Japan. But institutions matter. Giving them the right structures at least gives them a chance.

  3. Joe Carter says:

    Why is it that we set Afghanistan up as an Islamic theocracy and everyone (except me) yawns. Yet mention it in Iraq and their is all sorts of handwringing.

    I don’t get it. Why the double standard?

  4. Mac Swift says:

    I was handwringing over the Afghanistan’s new err, enlightened government as well. They’re so enlightened that letters from Christian Aghanis who live in the region are afraid that once the British and American soldiers leave, they’re all start killing each other again.

  5. John Anderson says:

    Afghanistan’s politics are under the UN, not the US or even the EU, albeit the countryside is being patrolled by troops of several countries including the US: does that help explain why they may end up with an Islamist theocracy rather than an Islamic republic?

    As to Shari’a, how the heck did the IGC come to do this? It is one thing to be guided by the principles of Islam or other religions (a thief should be punished…), quite another to impose religious “law” (…by having a hand removed). I do hope this is rescinded before the CPA has to take a hand. Some will say it is not all that bad, it is only for civil issues not criminal, and people are allowed the choice of civil or Shari’a court. Well now, as to choice, in any dispute there are AT LEAST two sides – what if one wants Shari’a but another wants civil? And as to “civil”, it includes the biggies – women’s rights. Nor is Shari’a codified, different clergy can arrive at different results: witness the “temporary” or “pleasure” so-called marriage, which some abominate as prostitution while others quite willingly participate!