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Memo From Mesopotamia | Summer Of 1787 And The Summer Of 2005
[VDARE.COM note: Allan Wall, who wrote our popular Memo from Mexico series until his Texas-based Army National Guard company was deployed in Iraq, is informed that he is arriving at the end of his tour of duty, and is looking forward to being reunited with wife Lilia and sons David and Raphael in Mexico. Thanks to all for your concern and prayers.]
Will Operation Iraqi Freedom successfully spread American-style government throughout the Middle East?
Does every ethnic group desire the same form of government?
What if the Iraqi people choose a system of government not to our liking or in our interests?
Such questions are certainly relevant. And not only for those of us over here in Iraq. In fact, a lot more attention should have been paid to such considerations a long time ago.
In the summer of 1787, the American constitutional convention drafted the constitution under which we still operate.
This summer, the summer of 2005, an Iraqi committee drafted a permanent constitution for Iraq.
This constitution draft (available in English here was approved in a referendum by the Iraqi people on October 15th , forming the basis for new elections scheduled for December 15th.
The constitutional drafting process was fraught with difficulty. Besides wrangling over the content of the document, the committee's work was overshadowed by violence. A Sunni Arab member of the constitutional committee was assassinated and the other Sunni Arab members were targets of credible assassination threats. Several resigned.
Our own constitutional convention back in 1787 had its own problems. Some rather contentious ones in fact.
How was representation in the American Republic to be apportioned—by proportional representation or equal representation? The "Great Compromise" solved this conflict by designating a Senate with equal representation and a House with proportional representation.
There were other matters to be settled. Questions about the functions of the congress, the presidency and the judiciary, and how the various officials were to be chosen. What to do with the western territories.
And the slavery problem, with its attendant question of how representation of states with slaves was to be calculated. Compromise was reached and the slavery question was postponed for later generations to deal with. You might say we're still dealing with its aftermath.
The constitution's final draft was ratified by all 13 states, and our country has used (and abused) it ever since.
The U.S. constitution was not drafted in a cultural/historical vacuum. Americans already had a century and a half of experience in local and state government, as part of the English legal and political tradition reaching back centuries.
"With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.
"This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.
John Jay was no multiculturalist, believing as he did in the essential unity of the American people. Even their differences were contained within the parameters of a basic unity. It's doubtful the constitution could have been successful had that not been the case.
Returning to 2005, we have to recognize the challenges Iraqis face in adopting constitutional representative government.
Unlike Americans of 1787, today's Iraqis don't have much experience in representative self-government. Nor have Islamic countries thus far shown much success in this area.
At first glance, one might regard Iraq as a culturally unified state . At least 75% of its population is Arab over 97 % is Muslim.
But look again. Iraq is an artificially-constructed nation-state cobbled together after World War I. (see my previous Memo from Mesopotamia). And Iraq sits directly on the fault line between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam.
Iraq's three main ethnic groups are the Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds. Even those three groups are further subdivided by tribes and clans. Factionalism is rampant. In the area where I'm stationed, there has been a struggle between rival police factions, fighting between rival militias of the same ethnic group, and a shootout between construction companies (!).
The difficulty of diversity in Iraq has not even escaped the notice of the mainstream media. As AP's Mariam Fam put it,
"The daunting task is compounded by the diversity of Iraq´s ethnic and religious groups, each clamoring for a charter that accommodates sometimes competing agendas." [Will Iraqi constitution be ready by deadline? Mariam Fam, Stars and Stripes Mideast Edition, July 11th, 2005]
Despite such obstacles, Iraq's constitution drafters made a valiant effort. Committee members literally risked their lives to draft a constitution.
I have to respect their courage.
Jawad al-Maliki is a Shiite Arab, Salih al-Mutlak is a Sunni Arab and Mahmoud Othman is a Kurd. (Smaller groups such as the Turkmen and the indigenous ChaldoAssyrians will probably have to accept whatever governmental system is imposed upon them.)
A major issue for Iraqi constitutional drafters to resolve was that of federalism. In the Iraqi case that would refer to regional autonomy in a de-centralized state.
Unsurprising, the Kurds, who have enjoyed autonomy since the early 1990s, are the keenest on federalism. And just as unsurprisingly, the Sunni Arabs, who ran the country until Saddam was overthrown, don't like it.
Kurdish committee member Mahmoud Othman said "They [the Sunni Arabs] think that federalism will lead to dividing the country. We think that it will unify the country."
The Kurds have jurisdiction over the northeastern Kurdish Autonomous Area. They also wanted jurisdiction over regions outside the Kurdish area "with Kurdish identity". Shiite committee member Jawad al-Maliki says "We object to such ethnic divisions." That's not surprising since his ethnicity is in the majority.
Some Kurds wanted to go even further. They wanted a federal region to have the right to have its own army. Actually, the Kurds already have their own army, the 100, 000 strong peshmerga, which still hasn't been incorporated into the new Iraqi military or police.
Some Kurds wanted the Kurdish entity to have authority to sign agreements with neighboring nations.
Oops, they're already doing that! Well, back to Iraq...
Kurd Mahmoud Othman, however, didn't think regions should have authority in defense or foreign affairs, but rather have power in almost everything else.
Regional federalism is the most popular among Kurds. Some Shiites support a form of it for themselves , others ( including Moqtada al-Sadr) don't. But for the formerly ruling Sunni, it's not a good idea.
Sunni committee member Salih al-Mutlak, said, in response to calls for federal regions, that "This is the beginning of dividing Iraq."
Which may be what most Kurds may want anyway. A whopping 95% of Kurdish voters favored independence in a January referendum.
Saddam's Iraq was ruled by the Sunnis. Therefore, it's no surprise since the election that Shiite Arabs and Kurds have usually been arrayed against Sunni Arabs. Kurd Othman described the Sunnis thusly, "They have different views. There are nationalists and Islamists and some have extremist opinions. This can create complications and problems. But we think their presence is necessary."
The goal of Sunni inclusion is to bring them into the government so they won't be so apt to blow everything up on the outside.
Another point of friction is the status of Saddam's Baath party. How much should former Baathists be excluded from the new government? Not surprisingly, the Sunnis see this as an exclusion of the Sunnis. The new constitution, in Article 7 , prohibits the Ba'ath party and its symbols.
Then there's the question of Iraq's identity. Sunni Salih al-Mutlak wanted Iraq to define itself as an Arab country. Unsurprisingly, the non-Arab Kurds didn't like that. Finally, the draft stated that Iraq's "Arab people are part of the Arab nation".
What about basic women's rights? Some fear they will be threatened under the new constitution. Currently, polygamy is restricted, a Muslim Iraqi man is not allowed to take a second wife without permission of the first. Will that be changing? [Iraqi women fear for their rights By Caroline Hawley BBC News, Baghdad]
What of the role of Islam?
Article 2 states that "Islam is the official religion of the state and a basic source of legislation". The draft further decrees that "No law can be passed that contradicts the fixed principles of Islam."
Will Iraq become a Sharia state? Will it fall under the influence of Iran? Many in the current ruling coalition are, after all, sympathizers of the Islamic Republic next door. Iraqi PM Jaafari, during a recent visit to Iran, laid a floral wreath on Khomeini's grave.
As John LeBoutillier puts it,
"If these two nations join together in a loose Shi'ite Muslim extremist alliance controlling 40 percent of the world's oil reserves and on the verge of manufacturing weapons-grade plutonium, then we will have helped create a situation much worse than anything Saddam could have ever conjured up.
Ironically, the opponents of Iranian influence in Iraq are not the Americans—but our insurgent enemies, who do oppose Iranian influence.
Has our own professed multiculturalism made us blind to the realities of the Middle East, and the potential pitfalls in Iraq?
For now, the only strategy is to keep a lid on things and wait—to see what the December elections bring about.
As an American soldier in Iraq, I would like to be part of a successful mission. As a citizen, I recognize the challenges we face here.
Now, the Iraqi National Question is our question.
God help us all.
Allan Wall's WORLDNET DAILY National Guard diary is archived here. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his FRONTPAGEMAG.COM articles are archived here; his website is here. Readers can contact Allan Wall at firstname.lastname@example.org.