- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

Secretary of State Colin Powell’s fatuous six-month target date for a new Iraq constitution orchestrated by the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) characterizes the chronic wishful thinking of the Bush administration over an expeditious transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

These delusions are fueled by the hope of shrinking the United States military presence and casualties in Iraq before the 2004 presidential election. The fractious 24-member IGC, however, is incapable of fashioning a viable constitution in six months or at any time.

Political passions peak when a constitution is at stake. Its rules and allocation of powers are pivotal to the fortunes of clashing political leaders, factions, and ideologies. In countries like Iraq where a first election may be the last election, every comma, colon and semicolon are fought over like a battle between life and death. The customary difficulties of compromise climb. Fears and distrust defeat hope. Statesmanship is risky.

These axioms highlight the daftness of expecting the IGC to give birth to a democratic constitution enabling a transfer of de facto United States sovereignty to Iraq.

The IGC bears no trappings of popular legitimacy. Its members were appointed by the United States. Some lean on Iran for assistance. Many if not all fear for their lives. They rely on bodyguards for personal safety. One has been assassinated. None of the endless broadcasts about Iraq since the inauguration of the American protectorate has shown even one Iraqi singing praises of the IGC.

In contrast, no organizer or member of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in the United States feared political assassination; none depended on foreign support for their participation; and, the American people accepted the legitimacy of the delegates and their constitutional task.

The IGC enjoys no commanding national figure like George Washington. Each appointee represents a narrow, clannish, sectarian or ethnic faction. Mutual suspicions abound. Kurds are wary of Arabs, whom they have routinely expelled from their homes in the north. The “Barzani” Kurds have betrayed the “Talibani” Kurdish faction, and both clans are distrusted by Turkmen, Shi’ites, and Sunnis.

Iraqi Shi’ites generally distrust Sunnis because of past persecution, but are also splintered between mullahs who champion a state built on the Koran in imitation of Iran or on secular principles unconstrained by Sharia.

To imagine the daunting IGC difficulties in reaching a consensus about an Iraqi constitution, think of a comparable contemporary counterpart in the United States. The leadership group would consist of President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, House Majority leader Tom DeLay, former Sen. Jesse Helms, former President William Jefferson Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Edward Kennedy, Sen. Charles Schumer, Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Reps. John Conyers and Maxine Waters, Jesse Jackson, Lyndon LaRouche, Rep. Bernard Sanders, and Arianna Huffington.

The incorrigible fracturing of the IGC is demonstrated by its protracted logjam over procedures for selecting 250 delegates to a constitutional convention. The Shiite members, who purport to speak for the 60 percent Shi’ite population of Iraq, demand swift direct elections. They calculate that their decisive numerical majorities over the Kurds and Sunnis will enable them to capture the lion’s share of popularly elected delegates; and, that a short election period would enable incumbent Shi’ite mullahs to defeat the vaulting ambitions of upstart dissidents.

The Kurds and Sunnis, in contrast, champion delegate selection by consensus among local leaderships, not a one-person, one-vote rule that would probably catapult the Shi’ite into convention ascendancy and threaten Kurdish and Sunni cultlike grips on their supporters.

The contrariness of the IGC has also found expression in the creation of an ornamental, rotating and truncated presidency among each of its 24 members and disagreements over the presence of Turkish troops in the Kurdish-dominated north. Indeed, the IGC has failed to reach consensus about anything nontrivial concerning a purely indigenous post-Saddam government.

Even assuming an IGC agreement on 250 convention delegates cobbled together as a concession to the shortness of life, a consensus on the constitution itself would be chimerical. Kurdish leaders in the oil-rich north, for instance, covet strong local autonomy tantamount to a semi-independent Kurdish state. Sunnis and Shi’ites generally favor a more muscular central government to forestall a Balkanization of Iraq.

Convention delegates also would fiercely dispute between a secular state that celebrates religious equality vs. a theological state in which the Holy Koran is superior to man-made laws. Another source of incendiary contention would be between gender equality crowning women with the identical political, economic, and family rights as men vs. female subordination confining women to domestic tasks and subject to strict male supervision.

Explosive disagreements could also be anticipated between champions of a strict separation of powers with an independent judiciary vs. exponents of combined legislative and executive authority with the courts impotent to check oppressive government measures; and between proponents of strong private property rights and encouragement of free enterprise vs. enthusiasts for a state-dominated and autarkic economy.

Compromises over markedly less momentous issues proved problematic among the 55 delegates to the American Constitutional Convention. It is thus far-fetched to believe 250 Iraqi convention delegates could negotiate compromises over the constitutional chasms that divide them within the foreseeable future.

When will the Bush administration confess that a viable indigenous government of Iraq is neither on the horizon nor feasible short of a decade or more of United States tutelage?

Bruce Fein is a founding partner of Fein & Fein.

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