Basic Law Signing: “Fallout from Crisis Remains
Hamza Hendawi of AP reports today on the signing of the Basic Law in Baghdad. The five Shiite hold-outs decided to sign “for the sake of national unity” despite severe reservations about some of the clauses. In particular, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani had signalled to them his objection to a provision that allowed any three provinces to reject a new constitution when it is crafted. In other words, the new constitution will have to be approved by an enormous supermajority of 90 percent of Iraq’s provinces. This is more than the already rigorous 75% of states that are needed to pass constitutional amendments in the US. Grand Ayatollah Sistani is concerned that this 90% rule will allow small minorities to take the constitutional process hostage. Shiites have pointed out that provinces in Iraq are not equally propulated, with some only having a few hundred thousand inhabitants. Theoretically, less than a million persons could reject a constitution passed by all the other 24 million. (The provision seems to allow for a popular referendum, such that if a 2/3s majority rejects the constitution in three provinces, it fails). The provision was put in for ths ake of the Kurds, who worry about a tyranny of the Arab majority.
Sistani is now demanding that when there is an elected parliament, planned for January 2005, it will have to affirm the Basic Law to make it legitimate, thus hinting that it might be tinkered with at that point. But the leaked drafts of the Basic Law in Arabic contain a provision that it can’t be amended, and can only be superseded by a new constitution. It may also be possible for Shiite Interim Governing Council members to add a few amendments to it in coming weeks, somehow weakening the 90% rule.
The always perceptive Hamza Hendawi of AP, however, points out that regardless of the signing ceremony, the damage has been done. After last Tuesday’s massive bombings at Karbala and Kazimiyah, and the failure to sign the Basic Law on Friday, tensions among Iraq’s main ethnic communities is running high. Hendawi says, ‘ The squabble exacerbated sectarian tensions and reinforced fears of Shi’ite domination over the Sunni Arab and Kurdish minorities, politicians and observers said. Shi’ite politicians say they want to build Iraq’s democracy on a sound basis. “To say that the Shi’ite religious leadership is now meddling in politics is to understate the case,” said senior politician Naseer Kamel al-Chaderchi, a Sunni Arab on Iraq’s Governing Council. “The majority must not be allowed to usurp the rights of others.” ‘
Az-Zaman explains that 13 Shiite members of the IGC approach Grand Ayatollah Sistani over the weekend, and that 7 of those who supported the Basic Law made promises to him that caused him to relent. He had reportedly been worried about a provision that would allow the 3 primarily Kurdish provinces (Irbil, Dahuk, Sulaymaniya) to veto the permanent constitution once it is drafted, if they found anything in it objectionable. There had been substantial anxiety on Sunday about whether the signing would take place.The Toronto Globe and Mail explained the continued controversy over the Basic Law. Reuters was less cautious and correctly predicted that the signing would occur Monday.
An expert analysis of the most recently-leaked draft of the Basic Law, by Middle East expert Nathan Brown, can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/nathanbrown1/interimiraqiconstitution.html.
The CPA has now posted an English text of the Basic Law.