Arab World Concerned About Iraqi

Arab World Concerned about Iraqi Constitution

Arab leaders on Monday expressed consternation that the Iraqi constitution does not identify Iraq as part of the Arab world. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa echoed these concerns but also said that the present constitution is a “recipe for chaos.”

The diction in the constitution is that Iraq is part of the “Muslim world” but then it says that “its Arabs form part of the Arab world.” The Kurds objected to Iraq being called part of the Arab world, since they deeply resent the Baath Party’s attempt to Arabize them. I figure Iraq is about 74 percent Arab. Given their performance in the Jan. 30 elections, the Kurds must be at least 20 percent of the population. Then Turkmen are about 3 percent, and Chaldean/Assyrian Christians are another 3 percent (many speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus, at home). The rest are Arabs, whether Sunnis or Shiites. You could have called Iraq an Arab country with that profile.

Morocco is probably 33 percent Berber and it identifies itself as an Arab state (I’ve met Moroccan Berbers who felt like second-class citizens, but I’m not sure they would object to their country’s status the way the Kurds do). Algeria is 25 percent Berber.

There are other member states of the Arab League that do not say in their constitutions that they are Arab states. I found an Arabic text for the 1998 Sudanese constitution on the Web, and although it says Arabic is the official language, it doesn’t say Sudan is part of the Arab world. Sudan is only 39 percent “Arab” (i.e. Africans who are native Arabic speakers; some Almanacs contrast the “Arabs” with the “Blacks” in Sudan, but I’m damned if I can see any difference. I’m told that the Sudanese make a distinction between the Yellows and the Blues, but I think a lot of it is ascriptive rather than any obvious racial difference).

Iraqi thinkers such as Sati al-Husri helped to invent the whole idea of Arab nationalism. But it has always been in competition with Iraqi nationalism (often favored by Shiites). And, of course, the Kurds have all along had problems with Arab nationalism, since they speak an Indo-European language.

President Jalal Talabani promised Monday that Iraq would continue to play a vital role in the Arab League.

Most educated Arabs have a map in their minds of the Arab world. It has a hole in it at Palestine, and another at Iraq, because– from the point of view of Arab nationalists– these bits of the larger homeland have been put under foreign military occupation. I heard a lower-class Lebanese woman say in a “person in the street” interview on al-Jazeera some time ago, “First Palestine went. Now Iraq is gone.” What did she mean by Iraq being “gone?” That it is not truly sovereign and is under occupation.

A lot of people in the Arab world believe that the erasure of an Arab identity for the Iraqi state is part of an American (and Israeli) plot to detach Iraq from the Arab world, thereby much weakening the latter.