Monday, August 22, 2005

"In The Best Tradition Of Democracy"

Unable to agree a constitution by today's deadline and facing the dissolution of parliament over that failure, Iraqi politicians found a solution which surely met with smiles from Bush's "smoke and mirrors" administration - deliver a partial draft document but put off the vote for three days!

My, but we taught them well.

Mind you, calling it a draft constitution is a might generous. According to the New York Times, there are three major sticking points:

The first issue was that the alliance of Kurds and clerical Shiites wanted a de-Baathification clause that would limit the level of position that could be attained by members of the Baath party. This was opposed by a group of Sunni Arabs and members of the secular Iraq List headed by Mr. Allawi, the former prime minister.

Two federalism issues were also being contended. The Sunni Arabs and the Allawi group were pressing for a two-thirds majority vote as being necessary for people to join together in a federal state. And they wanted to limit to three the number of current provinces that could join together.

Finally, the Sunnis and the Iraq List wanted to establish a two-thirds majority vote for approval of a prime minister and the presidency. The push for the two-thirds votes was a concession by the Sunni Arabs that the Shiite-Kurd coalition had such an advantage in numbers that they could easily achieve a majority vote.

While the AP reports that:

the main outstanding issues were federalism, the formation of federal units, problems related to mentioning the Baath Party in the constitution, and the division of powers among the president, the parliament and the Cabinet.

The numerous remaining issues cast doubt whether the Iraqis would be able to finish the document within a few days since the various groups have widely differing positions on all those points.

How can anyone be expected to believe that this is anything close to an agreed constitution? There is no agreement on the very structure of the nation, on who can hold high office or even what the powers of the highest officers will be! At least we now know that an Islamic Republic of Iraq, with Sharia law and minimal rights for women, has been agreed. That was the aim, wasn't it George?

Many Iraqis would probably add that legal conceits and political mincing of words will not convince ordinary citizens - nor help to difuse the insurgency. Sunni leaders are furious with the way they were sidelined, strongarmed and then dodged around:

"If it passes, there will be an uprising in the streets," Sunni negotiator Saleh al-Mutlak said after a 10-minute sitting at which Hassani declared the draft had been delivered on time.

"We will campaign ... to tell both Sunnis and Shi'ites to reject the constitution, which has elements that will lead to the break-up of Iraq and civil war," Soha Allawi, another Sunni Arab on the constitution-drafting committee, told Reuters.

Of course, since Sunnis can muster a healthy thwo thirds majority vote in at least five provinces and the rules say the charter will fail if two thirds of voters in three of Iraq's 18 provinces vote against it, the abortive thing will almost certainly die a death on October 15th. On that date a referendum on the constitution will be held and if it fails to pass then parliament will be forced to dissolve and the whole process from back in January onward must start again.

Back in the USA, the White house issued a statement:

"We welcome today's development as another step forward in Iraq's constitutional process," a statement from White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

"The progress made over the past week has been impressive, with consensus reached on most provisions through debate, dialogue, and compromise,"

And U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised Iraq's draft constitution as an historic milestone that was "in the best tradition of democracy."

You know, I think she was serious...

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