- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2004

The unanimous approval on Monday of a compromise interim constitution by the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) is one major step forward in rebuilding the country of 24 million following the ouster of Saddam Hussein. The document, known as Iraq’s “fundamental law,” will be signed today. Considering the different factions and enormous complexity of the issues that the IGC grappled with, the 25-member council did a superb job of brokering a compromise.

The fundamental law provides for freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. It provides for civilian control over the military and equal treatment under the law regardless of ethnicity. It strongly suggests that Iraqi leaders see themselves as part of a united Iraqi nation in the best sense — rather than members of narrow, squabbling ethnic and religious factions.

Throughout the tortuously difficult negotiations, numerous press accounts tended to focus on the negative and suggest that the negotiations over an interim constitution were on the brink of collapse. On Sunday, for example, The Washington Post’s account of the talks highlighted the fact that the parties had failed to meet their Feb. 28 deadline to reach agreement. “The failure to meet the deadline represented another element of the Bush administration’s political transition plan that has gone unfulfilled,” the Post said. The Post account went on to quote unhappy Iraqi negotiators complaining that U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer made them continue their talks even though they were “hungry and tired and angry.”

But in the end, the IGC appears to have been remarkably successful in finessing the differences between the negotiating parties. One such issue was the role that Islamic law, or Sharia, will play in the new Iraq: Women’s groups and members of Iraq’s Christian community did not want to see Sharia imposed in the interim constitution, while traditionalist Muslims — particularly in the Shi’ite community, which makes up close to 60 percent of the country — insisted that Islam be enshrined as the law of the land. In the end, the parties reached a compromise recognizing Islam as “a source” rather than “the source” of Iraqi law. The document bars any measure deemed contrary to Islam. But traditionalist Muslims also had to swallow hard to agree to a provision calling for a legislature in which women comprise at least one-quarter of the membership.

Another issue which had been fraught with potential problems was how to deal with the Kurdish issue. Approximately one-fifth of Iraq’s population is Kurdish, and the Kurds have sought to expand the territory they have ruled in Northern Iraq since 1991. While Washington vetoed that demand, the fundamental law permits the Kurds to maintain a 50,000-member militia, while bringing them under the nominal control of the government in Baghdad. “This is a compromise. It doesn’t include everything for everybody. It includes some things for everybody,” noted a Kurdish member of the IGC.

Considering the all-encompassing tyranny that Iraqis have been through over the past 35 years, the interim constitution —and the process of political give-and-take that made its enactment possible — is strong evidence of a growing maturity in the country’s body politic. President Bush’s defeatist critics may want to reconsider their pessimism.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide