Monday, August 29, 2005

The art of making everyone happy 

The new "Good news from Iraq" out this time tomorrow. In the meantime, here's the latest effort by Alenda Lux to whet your appetite.

Today, the constitution seems to be the talk of the town. Read Mark Steyn’s take: “New constitution has something for everyone”. And here’s a handy summary of the provision of the last version where the Kurds and the Shia tried to do their best to accommodate the Sunnis.

A few observations:

1) it was always too optimistic to expect that a constitution of a quite deeply Muslim country would not give a major role to Islam – this has been a concession not just to conservative Shia, but also conservative Sunnis . Laws cannot contradict Islamic faith – but they also cannot contradict democratic principles. This sets up an interesting, and hopefully creative, tension between two equally important but frequently conflicting sources of legitimacy. We will have to wait and see how it all plays out in practice - in parliament and in courts. In the meantime, hold your horses on the whole "Iranian-style theocracy" and "Sharia in Iraq" meme.

2) to placate the Sunnis, while Saddam’s Baath Party has been outlawed, the door has been left ajar for some other quasi-Baath party to emerge legally in the future.

3) Iraq is described as "an independent, sovereign nation, and the system of rule in it is a democratic, federal, representative republic" and "a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-sect country" that is "part [of] the Islamic world" and "its Arab people are part of the Arab nation." It all sound fine, but the Arab League is kicking up the stink, claiming that Iraq’s identity is Arab. Well, to some extent, but it’s hard to expect the Kurds to subscribe to that view.

4) as another concession to the Sunnis, the question of implementing federalism in practice has been deferred for the future parliament. In the end, if most of the Shia and practically all Kurds want some form of federalism, and most Sunnis are bitterly opposed, it’s difficult to see a compromise. It’s also difficult to see why the majority should have rolled and allowed the Sunnis to continue to dictate the constitutional shape of the country – particularly if the oil revenues are to be equitably distributed on per capita basis (the latest spanner in the works: Iraqi press is reporting on the latest statement by Ayatollah Al Sistani, which apparently condemns federalism).

5) in the end everyone had to compromise, everyone got at least some of what they wanted, but no one is completely happy with the finished product. Welcome to politics.


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