Constitution Negotiations Reach Last

Constitution Negotiations reach last Stage

Meetings are still being held on the final issues bedeviling the finalization of the Iraqi constitution. Iraqi government spokesmen keep saying that 16 or 17 issues are outstanding and all should be resolved by August 15. In fact, most of these issues are intractable (Should Iraq be a centralized state, a federal state, or a very loose federal state? Should religious law be applied to personal status issues like marriage, divorce, inheritance and alimony? Should the Shiite grand ayatollahs and the holy city of Najaf be formally recognized in some way? etc. etc.)

What now seems likely according to comments made to al-Hayat is that many of these hard issues will just be kicked down the road in order to meet the August 15 deadline.

This is probably a very bad idea. It should be remembered that the US founding fathers did the same thing. They found it very difficult to reach a compromise on the issue of slavery, which clearly is contradictory to the Bill of Rights and the spirit of the constitution in general. They therefore just sidestepped it and let states treat it with statute. That raised the question of whether slaves could count for purposes of allocating congressional seats (by size of population), and the notorious and humiliating formula was arrived at of treating slaves as a fraction of a human being for those purposes.

But the sidestepping and the postponing of grappling with the issue helped produce a Civil War a few decades later.

Likewise, it is highly unlikely that Iraqis will be more united on most of the hard issues five or ten or twenty years from now. If they are not decisively resolved now, very likely they will become persistent points of disagreement and rancor among the major ethnic groups. And thus, this rush to a constitution, mainly for the benefit of the Bush administration, which wants it done so Bush can gracefully begin exiting next year in time to affect the 2006 congressional races, is highly unwise. It may well contribute to the outbreak of a civil war in the future in Iraq (I mean a big conventional civil war with whole armies ranged against one another).

It would have been better if the parliament had taken advantage of the clause in the interim constitution allowing it to take another 6 months to finish the negotiations (which really only began in earnest two months ago).

Meanwhile, al-Hayat reveals more about the comments of Hadi al-Amiri of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, at a rally in Najaf calling for a southern, Shiite, regional confederation. He said, “What have we ever seen from the central government but death?” I am not sure whether he is referring to the anti-Shiite pogroms of the Saddam era or to the present government’s inability to stop guerrilla violence. But the sentiment is stark and raw and frankly secessionist. Not a good sign. (And mind you, the central government he is complaining about is now dominated by his kind of Shiite!)