I've never been a big fan of the Iraqi constitution project. Issues such as federalism and the role of Islam are too large and fundamental to be decided this early in Iraq's democratic evolution.
Nonetheless, the Iraqi constitution project is a fact. It has produced a document. It goes to referendum on Oct. 15. And the lamentations and rending of garments over the text are highly overblown.
The idea that it creates an Islamic theocracy is simply false. Its Islamist influence is relatively mild. "The Republic of Iraq is . . . a democratic, federal, representative (parliamentary) republic." The word Islamic is importantly omitted.
More specifically, the rule of Shariah is significantly constrained. All constitutions have their "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots." It is the "thou shalt nots" that are your protection from tyranny.
The constitution writers in Iraq finessed the question of Islam by posing it as a thou shalt not. No law may contradict Islam. But it also says that no law may contradict democratic principles, and that the constitution accepts all human rights conventions.
There are two gatekeepers for the passing of any law. Insofar as the constitution is adhered to (a heretofore dubious assumption in that part of the world), democratic rights are protected from the imposition of Shariah. Establishing a double roadblock to new legislation is an excellent way to launch Iraq's first experiment with limited government.
In any case, the real Gordian issue was never Islam, but federalism. The Sunnis object to devolving power away from Baghdad because they happen not to be sitting on oil and have spent the last century plundering everybody else's and turning villages like Tikrit into monstrous treasure cities with the proceeds. With this constitution, that is going to stop. As it should. The only problematic proposal was for the Shiites to have the right to create a nine-province super-region as autonomous as Kurdistan.
That might establish de facto self-governing entities within the shell of a weak Iraqi central government. So what? The only major objection is that the neighboring countries would vigorously reject a fully sovereign Kurdistan or Shiite "south Iraq." However, maintaining the shell of Iraqi sovereignty might mollify the Turks and Saudis and others who would resist outright independence. It might even turn out to be the best possible solution for Iraq's deep religious and ethnic divisions. After all, as one wag said, Iraq was not created by God, but by Winston Churchill. Moreover, a Basra-based Shiite super-region was not enshrined in the constitution. It is permitted, but not mandated.
We knew going into Iraq that we would overturn the political order. The introduction of democracy would inevitably take power away from the former ruling community -- the 20% of the population that ruled with uncommon brutality -- and transfer it to the other 80%. And they still managed to produce a perfectly reasonable constitutional document that deserves far more respect than it has received from the knee-jerk critics here at home.
Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Washington Post and an essayist for Time. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987, and in 2003 was a recipient of the Bradley Prize. This essay, in somewhat different form, was delivered in New York City in May as Commentary’s first annual Norman Podhoretz Lecture.
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