Monday, August 22, 2005

The Iraqi Constitution

Updates below. Fri, Aug 26

The Iraqis are this close to the first draft of their constitution and nobody is happy about it. The Sunnis are decidedly unhappy (which, come to think of it may be a good thing, on balance.) The Kurds are pretty grumpy about it. The Shiites are dissatisfied although they are the ones closest to getting what they want from it. The Americans are not happy about the wording of several parts, and by all accounts the Iraqi electorate may not go along with it. The situation is a mess.

This, of course, is nothing like we wanted and is also exactly what we wanted. It's called Democracy -- and it's hardly ever pretty. In a country as deeply divided as Iraq you simply must expect that their constitutional punchbowl will have a number of big brown floaters that nobody much wanted. But it is important to remember that the element that is new here is the punch. What they had before, especially from a Shia or Kurdish viewpoint, was a big, all-you-can-eat bowl of crap, so they are moving in a hopeful direction.

From what I have been able to gather the constitution will be worded so it sounds like it grants each faction what they want but doesn't really. That way everybody can declare victory and no one need really accept defeat. The Kurds get some autonomy but not enough to start that border war with the Turks which neither the Sunnis or Shia want. The Shiites also get some autonomy but not enough to play footsie with Iran, which neither the Sunnis or Kurds would enjoy. The Sunnis get a piece of the action on the oil revenue but very limited political power. The clerics get to claim Islam as a primary source of law (but not as the primary source of law.) When it comes time to implement these Islam-based laws the reluctance of the Kurds and the difference between the Sunnis and the Shia or the details will tend to limit what can be done at the federal level and, over time, the differences between the various federal states will tend to liberalize their local laws. In short, as long as everyone keeps one leg in the sack the three-legged race nature of Iraqi politics will tend to limit the damage they can do to one another and their neighbors. Oddly, the Sunnis are our best hope in this regard -- their part of Iraq has no oil to speak of so they have a strong incentive to keep the country together. They may deceive themselves that they are keeping it together so they can take over again but, since that is not likely to happen, we shouldn't mind.

And best of all, in an odd sort of way, is the fact that there will be parts of their constitution that we don't like. What better confidence-builder could there be for Iraqis of all stripes than the realization that they wrote their constitution, not the US, and that there are important parts of it that the US doesn't like. We have the opportunity here to demonstrate the the civic virtue of compromise -- not by rolling over, we should argue our position forcefully and complain loudly about the parts that don't go our way, but by holding our nose and abiding by the result. We don't have to be happy about it -- it would be a mistake to pretend we are. We just need to show them that Democracy means compromise and that we can live with the punch, even if there are a few ingredients that aren't in our recipe for it.

Update: Fri, Aug 26. For an informative guided tour of the proposed constitution, see Mad Canuck: Iraq Constitution - a more complete draft. (Hattip: The Mudville Gazette)

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