An Iraqi Constitution

Editorial

New York Times

August 12, 2005

Writing Iraq's constitution would be tough enough without Washington's hard-driving pressure to finish by next Monday. Some of the most basic issues remain hotly disputed, like the division of power between the central and regional governments, the role of Islam in state institutions, and whether women's rights will be protected by civil law.

Since this constitution will help determine whether Iraq holds together and whether the ultimate result of American military intervention will be freedom and democracy or a new religious tyranny, it would have been wiser to allow time for compromise and consensus. As that now seems unlikely, whatever document emerges next week needs to satisfy at least three criteria.

It should be transitional The specific details about regional boundaries, federal powers and the role of Islamic law should not be enshrined in the constitutional text, but left to future elected parliaments.

Even with the belated appointment of additional Sunni Arabs, the committee fashioning this constitution is not sufficiently representative to have the last say on these sensitive issues. Ideally, the Sunni Arabs will not boycott the next parliamentary election, as they did the one in January. Sunni participation would produce a more representative parliament, which could then carefully deliberate these issues without externally imposed deadlines.

Whenever a broad consensus emerges on these unresolved issues, appropriate language can be added to the constitution through duly ratified amendments.

It should be nonsectarian Saddam Hussein ran Iraq for the benefit of his own Sunni Arab minority. Shiites and Kurds were discriminated against, terrorized and worse. Now the tables have turned. The current government is dominated by pro-Iranian Shiite religious parties and Kurds inclined toward separatism. That leaves a lot of other Iraqis, including people from every group who put their identity as Iraqis ahead of their religious or ethnic affiliations, feeling excluded and unrepresented. And proposals for religiously inspired changes in family law have left millions of Iraqi women fearing that they are about to become second-class citizens.

The new constitution should clearly uphold the human and civil rights of all Iraqis, without regard to religion, ethnicity or gender, and guarantee access for all to the civil legal system and courts.

It should be Iraqi Iraqis have now been through several ballyhooed transitions that have still not left them completely in charge of their own country. The United States' arm-twisting over the Aug. 15 deadline is just the latest example.

While Iraq will never be fully sovereign as long as its government remains dependent on more than 100,000 foreign troops, the country's political leaders ought to be encouraged to stand on their own. With that in mind, the constitution should make it clear that Iraq's elected government must have full authority to decide how long foreign troops should remain in the country, the limits of the authority such troops can assert over Iraq's own security forces and whether any permanent military bases should be conceded to the United States.