- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

BAGHDAD — Officials of the U.S.-led coalition authority said yesterday they expect the drafting of a new Iraqi constitution to get under way within weeks, even as they cautioned that Iraq is not yet ready for a full-scale democracy.

The officials said the Coalition Provisional Authority — the legally recognized occupying power in Iraq — still expects to convene a group to start fashioning a constitution by the middle of July, and is continuing to consult with Iraqis about how to chose an advisory council.

However, they said, after three decades of authoritarian rule, the Iraqi people are not yet ready to make all their own decisions.

“Our responsibility is to make sure that the conditions for normal political life can exist,” said a senior official with the CPA. “Right now they do not exist. If you had an election process today, I think there would be more instability right now than less.”

Meanwhile, U.N. nuclear experts prepared today to begin inspecting a plundered nuclear plant as an international debate widens over deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

The seven inspectors from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrived yesterday as chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix publicly questioned the credibility of the coalition experts charged with searching for an arsenal in Iraq.

The CPA official said that people will not be able to focus on the political process until basic utilities are restored and law and order can be enforced, providing a sense of stability again. But Iraq also needs the cornerstones of a democratic electorate, including a responsible news media and political parties with national reach.

“If we had an electoral process now, it would be in a climate that would not be as secure as we would like,” a CPA official told reporters in a conference room of the ornate Republican Guard Palace where the 1,000-person agency is headquartered. “It would be in a climate where the media is far from properly developed. No political party has a national framework” except the now-outlawed Ba’ath Party of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

“If you have a free and open democratic process in an undeveloped political climate like we have here, it will be dominated by the extremes of the Iraqi political figures,” he said.

Aspiring Iraqi political leaders have disagreed with the coalition approach with increasing vehemence, saying that Iraqis are indeed ready to begin producing a constitution and a government of their own. They would like to see American troops and U.S. and British civilian overseers withdraw as quickly as possible.

“We are concerned that the participants of the [constitutional convention] will be selected by the Americans, not the Iraqis themselves,” said Hamid Al-Bayati, a political adviser to the Iranian-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Republic in Iraq, a leading Shi’ite Muslim organization. “We would like to see the Iraqi administration selected by Iraqis, and we believe we have this mandate from the U.N. Security Council.”

The key concern for many Iraqis is that both the political council and the hundred or more participants in the constitutional convention are to be chosen by the coalition, not the Iraqis themselves. This would give the occupying powers significant — and unfair — control over the organization and direction of both groups, they say.

The Coalition Provisional Authority has been consulting with a broader range of prominent Iraqis after criticisms that it had been favoring well-connected exiles at the expense of those who endured Saddam’s rule.

“Part of the process is to bring in those who have lived through the nightmare of the Saddam era and who represent strands of opinion of those who have lived through this period,” a CPA official said, noting that six of the seven leading groups involved in the government effort were in exile under Saddam.

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