All Dressed Up With No Place To Go

All Dressed up with No Place to Go: Setback for Basic Law

az-Zaman: On Friday, five Shiite members of the Interim Governing Council suddenly pulled out of signing the Basic Law they had agreed to, with the rest of the IGC, last Monday.

A huge formal signing ceremony had been arranged, attended by hundreds of people and the press, who just kept waiting for hours and hours as the five were holed up with Ahmad Chalabi. Finally the Coalition Provisional Authority announced that nothing would happen, and everyone went home.

The whole performance was a huge embarrassment for the Bush administration, which had counted on enacting the Basic Law as a prelude to finding a way to hand sovereignty over to an Iraqi government of some description on June 30. That deadline seems increasingly shaky.

The renewed determination to have their way among the more hardline Shiite figures on the council may have been sparked by the massive bombings on Tuesday, which fell on the holiest day of the Shiite calendar. A feeling of vulnerability could well have impelled them to rethink the concessions they had made to Kurds and women.

The dissidents included Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, and Ahmad Chalabi. Jaafari is the head of the Shiite al-Da`wa Party, and Rubaie is ex-Da`wa from Basra. Al-Hakim heads the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which for decades was close to Iran’s hardliners. Bahr al-Ulum is close to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Ahmad Chalabi has said that he is a secularist, but is rumored actually to have become personally pious. The five met repeatedly at al-Hakim’s house, and appear to have received instructions from outside the IGC to refuse to sign the law at the last minute.

The issues over which the five revolted were: the presidency, federalism, women’s rights, and the permanent constitution. The Basic Law had stipulated that there would be a president and two vice presidents. It said that the constitution could be annulled if any three of Iraq’s provinces objected to it (a provision inserted by the 5 Kurdish representatives). They also withdrew their support for a provision that 25% of seats in parliament should ideally go to women.

A member of the IGC told az-Zaman that this sort of to and froing was par for the course in the negotiations over the basic law. Members would agree to something in camera, then when they got home and contacted persons or groups outside the IGC, they would receive contrary instructions, and would come back in and want to renegotiate the entire issue. This member said that the time had come to abolish the practice of apportioning IGC seats by sect, as the Americans had done initially, and to rely more on expertise and ability in making the appointments. He also said that the 5 hold-outs don’t even represent a consensus of Shiites on the council.

The Washington Post reported that the five rebelled at the instigation of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Az-Zaman was more circumspect, merely speaking of “forces outside the Interim Governing Council.”

Eight other Shiite members of the IGC who did not join them (though they tried to recruit them), including Raja al-Khuzaie, a woman maternity physician who opposed them on the issue of Islamic personal status law and her colleague, Salama al-Khufaji, a dentist at Baghdad University. Likewise, Iyad Alawi, an organizer of ex-Baath officers. Abdul Karim Mahoud al-Muhammadawi, the leader of the Marsh Arab Hizbullah, and Ahmed Barak were willing to sign. Wa’il Abdul Latif, a court judge from Basra, was committed to the basic law, as was Hamid Majid Mousa, the Communist leader that the Western press oddly keeps counting as a “Shiite.”

The CPA evinced hope that the problems could be resolved through further negotiation. Maybe. But remember that this Basic Law is only a temporary document, and all the issues in it will be broach again when the constitution is drafted next year. At that point compromise will be even more difficult, and the US will no longer be in authority in Iraq. Not an optimistic scenario.