Constitutional tempest in Iraq

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V olcanic. That characterizes a heated symposium I attended in Ankara, Turkey, last week sponsored by the Foreign Policy Institute and Bilkent University to appraise “Iraq on the way to its new Constitution.” The attendees included Iraqi participants in the March 8, 2004, interim constitution promulgated by the 25 member Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). Other attendees hailed from Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The symposium exposed numerous fault lines destined to fracture Iraq soon after the Coalition Provisional Authority and United States sovereignty dissolve on June 30, 2004:

• An interim constitution and Iraqi Transitional Government devoid of legitimacy.

• A legal system denuded of legal principles.

• An irreconcilable conflict between the universal tenets of Islam and fundamental democratic freedoms.

• Implacable embitterment of Kurds toward Arabs born of their wretched oppression and genocide under Saddam Hussein.

• A demand by Turkmen to the same language and autonomy privileges enjoyed by Kurds.

• And exchanges and monologues that smacked more of belligerence than of fraternity.

Within days after conclusion of the symposium fireworks, a representative of Iraq’s most influential Shi’ite voice, Grand Ayatollah Ali-al-Sistani, warned the cleric would issue a fatwa or religious edict prohibiting participation in the Iraqi Transitional Government and mandating resistance through popular demonstrations and sit-ins.

To avoid such pandemonium and chaos, according to Ayatollah Sistani’s representative in Kuwait, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Mohri, the interim constitution must delete the special authority of Kurds to thwart a final constitution and must strengthen the power of a Shi’ite-dominated presidency.

The staggering blunders of the Bush administration in governing post-Saddam Iraq have left no satisfactory post-June 30 denouements. The least bad option is a managed partition into statelets for Kurds, Turkmen, Sunnis and Shi’ites to escape a reprise of Yugoslavia’s blood-stained disintegration.

Symposium participants challenged Iraqi representatives to defend the legitimacy of their constitutional handiwork, soporifically styled the “Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period.” No member of the IGC was elected. All were appointed by the United States. None enjoy more than a crumb of popular support.

A favorite of the Defense Department, Ahmed Chalabi, is more reviled than Saddam Hussein. The interim constitution was neither drafted nor debated in a public forum before its promulgation. The document turned precepts of self-government on their heads.

The defenders fatuously retorted that the interim constitution and the IGC deserved legitimacy because both were superior to Saddam Hussein and Ba’athist tyranny. By that yardstick, a restoration of the King Feisel dynasty would be defensible. It was further urged that the IGC featured members from all of Iraq’s major ethnic and religious groups.

But Turkmen are underrepresented in proportion to their numbers, and women occupy but one seat of 25. Moreover, the general unpopularity of IGC members convincingly demonstrates they do not embody the wishes of the ethnic or religious constituents they purport to represent.

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