Now They’re moving the Goalpost
Every indication is that a final text of Iraq’s permanent constitution just won’t be reported out of the drafting committee in time to have parliament vote on it on Monday. Now Iraqi politicians are talking about having parliament amend the interim constitution to allow a delay of say, two weeks. In fact, according to the Transitional Administrative Law, if the committee did not ask for an extension by August 1 (which it was pressured not to do by the Bush administration); and if the parliament did not approve the new constitution by August 15; then parliament should be dissolved.
61 (G) If the National Assembly does not complete writing the draft permanent constitution by 15 August 2005 and does not request extension of the deadline in Article 61(F) above, the provisions of Article 61(E), above, shall be applied. ‘
So what does 61 (E) say?
‘ If the referendum rejects the draft permanent constitution, the National Assembly shall be dissolved. Elections for a new National Assembly shall be held no later than 15 December 2005. The new National Assembly and new Iraqi Transitional Government shall then assume office no later than 31 December 2005, and shall continue to operate under this Law, except that the final deadlines for preparing a new draft may be changed to make it possible to draft a permanent constitution within a period not to exceed one year. The new National Assembly shall be entrusted with writing another draft permanent constitution. ‘
The language about changing the final deadline refers to the period after new elections, not before.
Thus, according to the existing interim constitution, the plan of extending the deadline at this late date is clearly unconstitutional, and parliament should instead be dissolved and new elections held. (They have to be held no later than December, but could be held, e.g., in September or October in principle).
In fact, holding new elections will require another lockdown of the whole country, perhaps the addition of a division or 20,000 American troops to what is there now, another 3-day curfew on all vehicle traffic, and all the logistics these steps would entail. In other words, even if they interim constitution was followed, new elections probably could not be held before November at the earliest.
In the meantime, with no parliament Ibrahim Jaafari and his Shiite-dominated cabinet would become an executive unchecked by a legislature, and so a sort of elected dictatorship (there is no supreme court yet) for two to four months.
It is not clear that the Iraqi public would have the heart for these new polls, since the last ones only produced deadlock. (People kept asking me why I wasn’t more enthusiastic about Jan. 30 at the time. It was because I knew the system had been set up so that the Sunni Arabs would probably be excluded and the Shiite religious parties would do very well, and both developments seemed to me harbingers of doom.)
We may well be watching the point at which the interim constitution begins being abandoned even in the absence of a new one, the point at which party politics and the interests of indigenous politicians overpower the technocratic dreams of the American political authority of 2003-2004. Paul Bremer had to slip out of Iraq in the middle of the night, and now his constitution may be making the same undignified exit.
Even if all this is somehow retrieved, the constitution could still be rejected in the referendum, and the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement is likely to go on anyway. Already Monday morning the wire services were reporting 9 killed in various places by guerrilla violence.
Allegations were also made Monday that the Iraqi government is guilty of torture, in contravention of the interim constitution and also of the draft of the permanent one.
The real question isn’t the constitution. The real question is actual, concrete politics. How do you keep the Kurds in without giving away the north? How do you bring the Sunni Arabs back in to ordinary politics? How do you satisfy the Shiites without implementing Islamic law as the law of the land? Those aren’t even necessarily constitutional problems (Nigeria wrestles with similar issues every day, just in the framework of provincial statute). They are political ones. Resolving them requires compromises that the major political forces seem unwilling to make. It looks, in fact, like Nigeria circa 1966 (google Biafra).