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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

24 March 2005

Iraqi Scholars See Legitimate Constitution as Key to the Future

Scholars discuss challenges of new constitution at Washington forum

By Afzal Khan
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – Three prominent Iraqi scholars say that the formation of a successful democratic government in their homeland will depend very much on how the new Iraqi constitution is framed.

Speaking at the Center for American Progress think tank on March 22, they stressed the importance of the legitimacy of the new constitution. They said the drafting of the new constitution by Iraq's newly elected 275-member National Assembly must include input from the disaffected Sunni community, which largely boycotted January's parliamentary elections.

The first draft of the permanent constitution is due August 15, after which it will be debated in the National Assembly before being submitted to a national referendum on October 15. If the constitution is approved, elections for a permanent National Assembly will be held on December 15.

Iraq is now operating under the provisions of the Transitional Administrative Law, which lays out the procedures for writing and adopting the permanent constitution.

"We cannot have a victor-take-it-all outcome," said Rend Al-Rahim, executive director of the Iraq Foundation and former Iraqi ambassador during the transition period.

"The Sunnis must be involved in the drafting of the constitution," she said.

Laith Kubba from the National Endowment for Democracy said "there must be no rubber stamp" and added that participation in the drafting of the constitution must be opened up to civic and media groups outside the National Assembly. Kubba is concerned that there may be "too wide a gap" between the drafting of laws and their practical implementation in the field.

Nijyar Shemdin, the U.S. representative to the Kurdistan Regional Government, said there are regional issues that will need to be addressed by the central government, such as the allocation of natural resources.

Shemdin recalled that a powerful central government had created disaffection in the regions in the past. But he noted that the rights of states, as incorporated in the state constitutions of the United States, could be emulated in the Iraqi constitution.

"If state rights are protected, there is no need for autonomy," he said.

However, Kubba pointed out that in post-Saddam Iraq there are "lots of politics on polarized positions" and said that there is a need for a strong central government to create a national identity.

"In the north the Kurds are comfortable, in the northwest the Sunnis are in bad shape, and in the south the Shi'as still lack public services as they always did," Kubba elaborated.

Al-Rahim added that Iraqis today feel persecuted not as Iraqis but as Shi'a, Kurds or Sunnis. As such, there is "a politics of fear" based on one community fearing domination by the other. However, she noted that in the cities, educated middle-class citizens identify themselves only as Iraqis.

Al-Rahim said that Iraq has experienced a revolution more like the violent French Revolution than the "velvet" revolution in post-Communist Eastern Europe.

"Old premises have been turned on their heads," and a Sunni-dominated Iraq of the last 80 years exists no more. Along with that, a sense of nationalistic Arab identity has also disappeared, she said.

Al-Rahim said Iraq now needs "a national pact" on how communal fears can be allayed, and that road lies through the framing of a valid constitution that is palatable to all communities.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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