Iraq: The Silly Constitution
Article published in Le Monde | 22.10.05
On October 15th Iraqis voted on their Constitution. But what sort of legitimacy and validity can be attributed to this text, which has been amended time and time again in unexplained circumstances, the most recent amendment having been made three days before the vote and another one to take place before the legislative elections on December 15?
The most contradictory speculations on the Constitution have been circulating for months. As soon as a clause was adopted, several days later it had undergone a metamorphosis. After eight months of discussion, often sterile, there is a total lack of vision for a united Iraq. Each faction remained camped on its positions. Ethnic, regional and religious demands won over the national and public interests. The divisions are deep between the Shi’ites and the Kurds. And as to the Sunnis, they are suspicious of both. The Turkmen changed their positioon more than once and the Assyrian and Chaldean Christians are worried and divided.
One has to admit that the text contains everything and its opposite (the pairing of Islam and democracy, for example) and lacks any coherence. Its preamble is confused and omits the suffering of the Assyrian and Chaldean Christians. It’s written that no law may be adopted which is in contradiction with the constants and precepts of Islam and the principles of democracy (Article 2). It is without a plan for building a civil society and possesses no guiding political philosophy because partisan positions and personal rivalries are tremendous.
Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, who is uncompromising concerning autonomy for his region, set the tone when he addressed Kurdish Parliament: If they want our participation in building the new Iraq, then they must guarantee the rights of our people. He added that the Kurds would never accept an Islamic identity for Iraq nor an Iraq considered part of the Arab nation. But Barzani did not leave the table with all his demands met--the text was amended several times with pressure from Arab countries.
Opposite to what the Kurds did, the Shi’ites of Moqtada Al-Sadr organized demonstrations to oppose federalism, synonymous with division, and defended the unity of the country. On this score, federalism is hard to pin down, vascillating between ethnic federalism and geographical federalism. The powers granted to the federal government over towns and regions are very weak. What’s more, this federalism is limited to a confederation of local powers with controlling influence in every domain, like states within the state. The Kurdish constitution being drafted heads in the same direction.
As to the Sunnis, they continue to resist what they consider to be a Kurdo-Shi’ite diktat. They were granted several concessions, notably on maintaining the unity of the country and on its Arab identity. But they got nothing truly satisfactory given the climate of distrust and political divisions.
But if in the end the Iraqi Parliament approved the text of the Constitution, its litigious points continue to be discussed. Disagreements have piled up and are polarized around twenty points which each faction considered strategic and off limits for compromise or arrangements.
Will the Constitution address the daily needs of the Iraqis in the exceptional climate of violence and fear, increasing criminality, an overwhelming deficiency in security, economic crisis, unemployment, housing shortage, no central government, scant tradition of democracy, no running water, no power and no gas? And under foreign occupation to boot?
Given the stakes and the constitutional challenges represented by the country’s national identity, the church-state relationship, the nature and the structure of the state (federal, unitary, and decentralized) the form of the political system (parliamentary and federal), the balance between its religious, ethic and tribal communities, the status of women, the repartition of governmental posts and administrative positions and the sharing of wealth, this Constitution will change nothing in the lives of Iraqis because its provisions are so amorphous. The path to “cantonization” has been opened up in Iraq.