Islamic Law Primary in Iraqi Constitution
Thousands demonstrate against Federalism
Kurdish Masses demand right to Secede
Guerrillas ambushed a group of special police in Baghdad on Saturday, killing two of them. There was also a bombing of police in Fallujah. Altogether, al-Sharq al-Awsat says, some 11 Iraqi police and civilians were killed by guerrilla action on Saturday, and four guerrillas were killed by US and Iraqi troops south of the capital. On Saturday a US soldier was killed by an improvised explosive device.
In Ramadi, 5,000 Sunni Arab demonstrators came out to protest the designation of Iraq as a federal state in the new constitution. [Al-Sharq al-Awsat/ AFP:] There was a similar demonstration in Kirkuk by Arabs and Turkmen against federalism. (A federal Iraq will probably cede Kirkuk to Kurdistan, which will have vast local powers of governance, and the Turkmen and Arabs resident in the city (probably over half the population if taken together) oppose this development.) Many of the demonstrators were Shiite followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. They denounced federalism as likely to lead to the partition and weakening of Iraq, and thus as an imperialist and Zionist plot.
Al-Jazeera is reporting that the Kurds staged big demonstrations on Sunday morning in Irbil, Sulaymaniyah and other cities demanding that their right to “determine their fate” (i.e. secede) be enshrined in the constitution. A Shiite parliamentarian on the drafting committee told al-Hayat that this demand is “a major obstacle” to finalizing the constitution. Al-Sharq al-Awsat suggests that high Kurdish politicians involved in the negotiations on the constitution are signalling that they are willing to give up on this demand.
Sunni Arab delegates on the constitution-writing committee declined to meet with the others on Saturday, leaving the Shiites and the Kurds to negotiate with one another. Sunni Arab opposition to a federated state as opposed to a central government that rules directly appears to be an insuperable obstacle to agreement. Borzou Daragahi of the LA Times reports that the Sunni Arab delegates believe Iran is behind the recent calls by Shiites for a confederation of 9 southern Shiite provinces, a plan they vehemently reject.
Al-Hayat: In one of the major disputes outstanding between the Kurds and the Shiites, on whether Islamic law will be the fundamental source or only one of the sources of Iraqi law, the Shiite religious parties appear to have won out. AFP reports that the reason for this is that the United States has swung around and begun to support the primacy of Islamic canon law.
Al-Hayat writes, “Also, an agreement was reached that Islam is the religion of state, and that no law shall be enacted that contradicts the agreed-upon essential verities of Islam. Likewise, the inviolability of the highest [Shiite] religious authorities in the land is safeguarded, without any allusion to a detailed description. The paragraph governing these matters will specify that Islam is ‘the fundamental basis’ for legislation, though there will be an allusion to the protection of democratic values, human rights, and social and national values. A Higher Council will be formed to review new legislation to ensure it does not contravene the essential verities of the Islamic religion.” Personal status law, concerning marriage, divorce, alimony, inheritance, and so forth, will be adjudicated by religious courts in accordance with the religion or sect to which the individual belongs.
Similar law is present in the constitution of the US-installed “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan“. In fact, the text of the Afghanistan constitution is instructive:
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
We the people of Afghanistan:
1. With firm faith in God Almighty and relying on His lawful mercy, and Believing in the Sacred religion of Islam . . .
3. While acknowledging the sacrifices and the historic struggles, rightful Jehad and just resistance of all people of Afghanistan, and respecting the high position of the martyrs for the freedom of Afghanistan . . .
Chapter I The State
Article 1 [Islamic Republic]
Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic, independent, unitary and indivisible state.
Article 2 [Religions]
(1) The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam
(2) Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.
Article 3 [Law and Religion]
In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam . . .
Article 131 [Shia Law for Shia Followers]
(1) Courts shall apply Shia school of law in cases dealing with personal matters involving the followers of Shia Sect in accordance with the provisions of law.
(2) In other cases if no clarification by this constitution and other laws exist and both sides of the case are followers of the Shia Sect, courts will resolve the matter according to laws of this Sect. ‘
[I take it that article 131 implies that ordinarily personal status law is Sunni, but Shiites will be ruled by Shiite law.] This Afghan constitution was also enacted with the help of Zalmay Khalilzad, then US ambassador in Afghanistan and now US envoy in Iraq. I’m not suggesting that Dr. Khalilzad has a soft spot for Islamic canon law. More probably he is just a pragmatist who recognizes that these provisions reflect the current mood and convictions of the majority in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Al-Hayat: One of the outstanding issues in the drafting of the permanent constitution is how the provinces or regions will share petroleum revenue with the center. Under the old regime, the oil profits from the Kirkuk (north) and Rumaila (south) fields went straight to the central government, and, indeed, into the coffers of the Baath Party.
The Kurds have been insisting that some proportion of the revenues generated by the Kirkuk fields stay in Kurdistan. Various percentages have been floated– 24%, 17%, 10%, etc. The original plan was to specify the percentage in the constitution. But now it has been decided that the issue will be handled by a subsequent law to be passed by the national assembly, and that the constitution will only say that the sharing of petroleum revenue between province and center will be carried out in accordance with this statute, yet to be enacted.
Al-Hayat: Six armed guerrilla organizations called for greater speed in the registration of voters for the October 15 referendum on the constitution. They appear to be taking advantage of the provision that any three provinces can reject the constitution by a 2/3s vote in each, and planning for three Sunni-majority provinces to cast “no” votes. They said the voter registration is in order “to defeat the American plan.” These six groups differ in their strategy from other guerrilla organizations, which oppose the voter registration process and Sunni Arab participation in the referendum at all, and which have been killing Sunni Arabs who urge or help with voter registration.
Ed Wong of the NYT does a groundbreaking and very important article on the attacks on Iraqi Sufi orders by Salafi Sunni fundamentalists. Sunni Islam in Iraq, both Kurdish and Arab, is closely tied to the mystical Sufi heritage. In this it resembles Sunnism in Turkey, Pakistan and Senegal much more than it does most Arab countries. Wong helps complicate the story familiar to Western readers, of Shiites, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds, by focusing on the next level down, of actual religious organizations, and so illumines a significant part of Iraqi society for us.
Although Western readers often associate the guerrilla movements with the Sunni Arab areas, in fact guerrillas operate everywhere in Iraq. It is just that some favor the new status quo and wish to burrow into it, while others reject it. Anthony Shadid and Steven Fainaru report on the way in which militias and militia-infiltrated police forces have established hegemony in cities such as Basra and Mosul. The existence of party-based paramilitaries alongside the police, described here, is similar to the situation in Iran after the Khomeini revolution. Revolutionary Guards and basij volunteers operated parallel to formal government bodies such as the police and army. The Kurdish and Shiite militias have such power because of a vacuum. There are only a few hundred US troops in the Kurdish north, apparently. And only 8,500 British troops are responsible for much of the Shiite south.