November 2003, Volume 1, Issue 5
Amy Hawthorne, Editor
Kurdistan and a Federal Iraq: How the Kurds Created Facts on the Ground By Peter W. Galbraith
Iraq's Sunni Arabs: Part of the Past, Part of the Future? By Judith S. Yaphe
Can the U.S. Keep Iraq's Shiites Happy? By Juan Cole
Federalism for Iraq and Lebanon By Habib C. Malik
Iraq Needs Territorially-based Federalism By Adeed Dawisha
The New Transition Plan: A Preliminary Analysis By Marina Ottaway
Insights and Analysis
Kurdistan and a Federal Iraq: How the Kurds Created Facts on the Ground
By Peter W. Galbraith
As anti-American attacks escalate elsewhere in Iraq, the Kurdistan region remains steadfast in its support of the United States, if not all of the policies of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). This does not, however, translate into unconditional support for Bush administration's political objectives in Iraq, which may become painfully obvious when Iraqis finally sit down to write a constitution.
Iraqi Kurdistan is possibly the most pro-American place in the world today. Iraqi Kurds describe the last twelve years as Kurdistan's "golden era" — a time when the Kurds governed themselves in a pluralistic, if not fully democratic, society, when much of the physical destruction wrought by Saddam's rule was repaired, and when Kurds enjoyed increasing prosperity, especially after the creation of the oil-for-food program in 1996. None of this would have been possible without U.S. military protection, and the Kurds know it. Unlike the Shiites, they long ago forgave the United States its earlier support of the Saddam Hussein regime and its betrayal of their 1991 uprising.
The Kurdish leaders value their role as America's main ally within Iraq. They note that the Kurdish peshmerga created the northern front for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and suffered more combat casualties than America's British allies. The U.S. military has reciprocated by exempting the peshmerga from its April general order to dissolve militias, by allowing the Kurdistan Regional Governments to continue to function, and by allowing the Kurds to keep the significant quantities of Iraqi heavy weapons they captured at the end of the war. Not that the US had any real choice: it would have been politically impossible to disarm forcibly its main ally and, with chaos prevailing elsewhere in Iraq, highly undesirable to dissolve Iraq's one functioning government.
So far, the Kurdistan leaders have skillfully played the part of loyal ally, accommodating the Americans on all non-vital issues. But where the Kurds have seen a vital interes — in keeping Turkish troops out of Iraq — they have been adamant and effective in their opposition. Faced with a choice between disrespecting the expressed wishes of the Kurdish-influenced Iraqi Governing Council and not having the Turkish troops, CPA Administrator L. Paul Bremer III wavered, and then decided not to push the troop deployment.
No issue is more vital to the Kurds than incorporating their version of federalism into Iraq's new constitution, and they are mobilizing all their new power to this end. The two main Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), have demonstrated an unprecedented degree of cooperation in the last year, and are presenting a united front in constitutional negotiations. Thus, for the first time in their history, the Kurds are entering intra-Iraq negotiations with the upper hand.
The Kurdistan negotiators will insist on keeping a single Kurdistan with an elected parliament and president, and with its own judiciary. They will insist that the Kurdistan province have extensive powers including the powers to tax, to spend, and to exercise exclusive control over the police, education, religion, environment, and the local economy. The Kurds want to convert the peshmerga into a Kurdistan self defense force reporting to the Kurdistan President, an understandable position considering the only army to attack the Kurds in the last eighty years was the Iraqi army. Equally controversial, the Kurds want their province to own the subsoil minerals (including oil) and water. In making these demands, the Kurds will cite the example of other federal democracies, such as Canada (where the provinces own the natural resources) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (where the constitution based on the American-brokered Dayton Accords allows each federal unit its own military).
The Kurds also want full equality in the central government. Again borrowing from Canada, they will insist on the equality of the Arabic and Kurdish languages in all national institutions including the parliament, the diplomatic service, and the senior bureaucracy. It has not escaped their notice that bilingualism in Canada gives the twenty percent French speaking population disproportionate power at the federal level.
These demands will bring the Kurdistan leaders into conflict not only with old-style Arab leaders who continue to believe in a highly centralized government run from Baghdad, but also potentially with Shiite clerics seeking to impose Islamic rule on the whole country. It may also lead to conflict with the CPA, which fears that too much federalism may undermine President Bush's commitment to preserve the unity of Iraq.
Given a genuinely free choice, few of Iraq's Kurds would choose to remain part of Iraq. After twelve years of separation, the rest of Iraq is a foreign land to a younger generation brought up in the relative freedom and isolation of the Kurdish speaking north. For the older generation, Iraq is mostly associated with repression and genocide. The Kurdish leaders understand that independence is not a practical option today, but they face a public that is increasingly assertive on the matter. For instance, Kurdish non-governmental organizations have launched a petition drive for a vote on Kurdistan's status.
Over the long term, it is almost impossible to have a country that is both unified and democratic when the people of a geographically defined region almost unanimously do not want to be part of that country. By meeting many Kurdish aspirations, a loose federation may be the best hope to hold Iraq together. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the CPA, preoccupied as it is with the deteriorating security environment and with constitutional timetables and modalities, sees any of this.
Peter W. Galbraith, a former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia, is senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation. He is an expert on Iraqi Kurdistan, and has visited the region many times over the last twenty years.
By Judith S. Yaphe
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's Sunni Arab community — estimated to be less than twenty percent of the population — has been demonized and victimized by many inside and outside Iraq. Having dominated Iraq's political, educational, and military institutions since 1920, Sunni Arabs are now frightened by their sudden, dramatic loss of political power, social status, and economic well being. Some Sunni Arabs are directly responsible for violent opposition to the American-led occupation; some may be sheltering Saddam and his few surviving loyalists. Most probably do not want Saddam's return, but they blame the United States for their losses and probably see little recourse in democratic institutions or values. To deflect their opposition to the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the appointed Governing Council and pave the way for the establishment of a viable democratic system, the CPA must foster a Sunni Arab "buy in" to Iraq's political and economic future.
Sunni Arabs have served as an elite class of lawyers, bureaucrats, educators and soldiers since the days of the Ottoman Empire. During the British occupation and following independence in 1932, they led the government and shaped Iraq's identity as an Arab and an Iraqi state. Under Saddam Hussein, members of Sunni Arab tribal confederations and clans dominated the elite Republican Guard, the officer corps of the regular army, and the security and intelligence services. Successful and politically quiescent Sunni Arab leaders benefited from their loyalty to a suspicious and malevolent ruler who would as soon lavish them with gifts of land and money as he would later execute them for conspiracy. They also grumbled about regime greed, corruption, and murders of clan members, and were the source of virtually all coup attempts during the 1990s.
Most continue to live in the so-called Sunni triangle — the area from Baghdad north to Mosul, west to the Syrian and Jordanian borders and from Baghdad east to Baqubah. They live as well in Basra and Zubayr in southern Iraq and along the border with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Some have been urbanized for generations, and are secular and modern in outlook; others are more village-oriented, still honoring tribal loyalties and customs. They identify with Arab causes, including any involving the Palestinians. At the same time they are "Iraq Firsters," placing Iraq's political independence and territorial integrity above other identities and values. Parochial in outlook and conservative in vision, Iraq's Sunni Arabs had — and still have — a strong sense of communal pride, nationalism, and specialness.
Today, Iraq's Sunni Arabs are joined more by their common fears of disenfranchisement and retribution than by religion or tribal custom. Stripped of their power and positions, they fear life-long persecution for sins committed by Saddam's regime. Some may choose a life in exile over uncertainty in Iraq, while others may opt for more violent and dramatic means to confront their perceived enemies. A number are also increasingly bound by a newer regional trend — political Islam — which is shaping their self-view and behavior.
Traditionally, Iraq's Sunni Arabs did not identify themselves in sectarian terms. Islamist sentiment in the form of greater personal piety took on new popularity among Iraq's Sunni and Shiite Muslims under Saddam. Accompanying such expressions of faith, which Saddam permitted, is a growing religious extremism, which Saddam did not condone. It is attracting Sunni Arabs inside Iraq as well as extremists from outside to commit acts of violence against the foreign presence in Iraq.
Two major CPA decisions have exacerbated the problems facing Sunni Arabs. Because a significant percentage of the community were Baath Party members and regime loyalists, de-Bathification has removed many Sunni Arabs from inclusion in politics or public sector jobs. Similarly, the sudden demobilization of Iraq's military stripped many of their rank, status, and incomes.
Those sheltering anti-Coalition guerrillas and supporting acts of sabotage against Iraqi and foreign interests must be stopped. The most effective way to disarm angry Sunni Arabs would be to re-invest them with a role in Iraq's political and economic future. This could be done by expanding the sub-councils of the interim Governing Council to include more Sunni Arabs, adding constitutional mechanisms to ensure legal protection from retribution for service in the Baath Party and government (excluding individuals implicated in regime crimes, senior Baath party officials, and members of Saddam's repressive security apparatus), supporting political arrangements to ensure Sunni Arab participation in the transition to Iraqi control next June, and encouraging economic development programs in Sunni Arab regions.
At the same time, ethnicity and religion must be de-emphasized as identifiers of those recruited to local councils and other interim political institutions. Tribal, ethnic, and sectarian rituals may reflect local truths, but Iraqiness — incorporating all elements of society —should ultimately form the basis of national identity.
These are neither simple nor quick processes to absorb but, if successful, could pay off in gaining even tacit support for the new governance of Iraq in place of implacable resistance.
Judith S. Yaphe is Distinguished Research Professor for the Middle East at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, Washington, DC. The opinions expressed here are the author's and do not represent policies of the University, the Department of Defense, or any other government agency.
Can the U.S. Keep Iraq's Shiites Happy?
By Juan Cole
British officials publicly worried recently that the United States-led coalition occupying Iraq had only about a year before the Shiites of Iraq turned against it. Shiites, the majority in the country, so far have been more welcoming of the coalition military and civilian presence than have Sunni Arabs. But the Shiite community, which is more religious than most outside observers had anticipated, is deeply ambivalent about the occupation. Like most Iraqis, Shiites dislike the idea of occupation, but most also want the security provided by coalition troops, at least for now. If very many Shiites turn hostile, they might begin listening to radical voices. This would make Iraq ungovernable for the coalition.
Tensions have arisen with the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the preeminent Shiite religious authority, over the procedure for drafting the new constitution. Sistani's July 1 fatwa or legal ruling rejected the U.S.'s original plan, under which the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) would have chosen a committee to draft the constitution. The fatwa stated that "general elections must be held so that all eligible Iraqis can choose someone to represent them at the constitutional convention that will draft the constitution." The pronouncement by Sistani, who has enormous moral authority among mainstream Shiites, convinced the Shiite members of the IGC to insist on this way of proceeding. The Kurds, who fear the tyranny of the Shiite majority, want an appointed committee to do the drafting. This issue has paralyzed the IGC.
Concerns that a lengthy and contentious constitution drafting process could cause friction with the Shiite community appear to have been among the factors leading the U.S. to revise significantly its plan for handing over civilian power to Iraqis. The new plan, to which the U.S. Administrator L. Paul Bremer III and the IGC agreed on November 15, calls for a newly formed provisional assembly to form a government that will assume civil power by June 2004 and hold elections for drafters of a constitution by March 2005. National elections would be held under the new constitution by the end of 2005. This plan may not fully satisfy Sistani and his followers, however. They may object that elections for the provisional assembly will not be truly democratic, since the electors will be local notables and tribal chieftains chosen in a process supervised by the U.S. Already, in a little-noticed fatwa issued on October 6, Sistani's office stated that the IGC was illegitimate because it has been recognized neither by the Najaf religious authorities nor by a popular election.
Coalition relations with the young firebrand Shiite preacher Muqtada Al Sadr are also prickly. As many as a third of Shiites, especially those living in the teeming ghettos of Baghdad and Basra, may sympathize with Muqtada. He has called repeatedly for an immediate U.S. withdrawal, and his lieutenants in mosques throughout the country criticize the Americans as corrupters of morals and as neo-colonial oppressors.
Muqtada and his lieutenants have staged several anti-American demonstrations in Baghdad and Basra ranging in size from a few hundred to five and perhaps ten thousand people. Sadrists, as his followers are known, played a role in whipping up mobs against the British in Basra in August, and coalition troops clashed with Muqtada's militias in East Baghdad and Karbala on October 9 and 16, 2003, respectively. When those clashes resulted in the deaths of U.S. servicemen, the U.S. military considered arresting Muqtada.
Instead, Muqtada appears to have been threatened and perhaps also bribed. He issued a statement in early November praising the U.S. for removing Saddam Hussein (who had killed his father), and calling for cooperation with the coalition. The U.S. cannot count on this conversion to moderation to last, however, since it is clearly rooted in pragmatism alone. Radicalized Shiites might swell the ranks of Muqtada's followers and stage massive urban demonstrations of the sort launched by Ayatollah Khomeini against the Shah in Iran in 1978 and 1979. This would very likely trump the U.S. If the U.S. left hundreds of thousands of demonstrators alone, it would be ceding control over that social space to them. If the U.S. tried to control civilian crowds with force, trouble would escalate.
It remains to be seen whether the U.S.'s planned transition to Iraqi sovereignty in June 2004 can mollify both Sistani and Al Sadr. Both have welcomed the move, but problems remain. The date for a hand-off of civil authority is farther away than most Iraqis would like, and it could slide. The transfer of sovereignty will not necessarily end the large coalition military presence in the country, and many Shiites may lose patience with it. Iran's hard-liners, who have condemned the U.S. presence, have little authority in Iraq at present, but that could change if the Iraqi public becomes deeply unhappy with the Americans. The U.S. is walking a political tightrope, and may have to make further concessions to keep the Shiites happy.
Juan Cole is professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the University of Michigan and author of Sacred Space and Holy War (IB Tauris, 2002).
Federalism for Iraq and Lebanon
By Habib C. Malik
Underlying the political map of the Middle East —those weird straight lines of Sykes-Picot vintage running through the desert— is the real configuration of this enigmatic region: the ethno-religious layout. Kurds, Berbers, Arabs, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Turks, Armenians, Copts, and more, depending on where one decides the Middle East ends. It is a kaleidoscope in a Muslim-majority context with the Muslim population further divided into multiple sub-groups. And yet the lingering impression is one of greater homogeneity than actually exists: the Middle East is principally Arab and Muslim, period. Some countries in the region more than others convey this impression of uniformity. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is Sunni (Wahhabi); Egypt, despite its Coptic population over whose exact size there is a lingering dispute, is largely Sunni and thoroughly Arab; Jordan may have a majority Palestinian population, but it is Sunni and Arab through and through.
Two countries stand out as departing markedly from this assumed norm: Iraq and Lebanon. The internal makeup of these two countries betrays more accurately the mosaic nature of the region as a whole. Both Iraq and Lebanon belong to the category of mixed or composite societies and, in times of turmoil, both run the risk of becoming internally divided, or worse, unraveling into fragmented micro-communities. Lebanon's violent disintegration during the 1970s and 1980s spawned the dreaded term "Lebanonization," an earlier variant of Balkanization. But Lebanonization, which today means suffering a fate similar to that of the collapsed state that lent its name to the term, had the exact opposite connotation prior to 1975, the year when war broke out in Lebanon. To be like Lebanon meant then, especially for other Arabs, to be free, open, pluralist, prosperous and stable —qualities rarely seen together in any of the surrounding Arab states. Above all on the political level, emulating Lebanon meant perfecting the art of political compromise, becoming masters at the craft of intricate consensus politics, nurturing an irreverent media, and accepting the all-important principle of proportional representation. Lebanonization, therefore, has a Jekyll-Hyde character to it. During the good times Lebanon works, and works well, since the external attention directed at it is mainly benevolent instead of being predatory.
Today, the external attention being directed at Iraq by the United States and the other Coalition members is fundamentally benevolent. This fortuitous fact presents Iraqis of all stripes with a unique and enviable opportunity to refashion their ravaged country in a way that over time will vastly improve the quality of their lives by allowing each of their communities to live in peace and dignity alongside the others. Unlike Lebanon, Iraq is rich in oil and can confidently look forward to a prosperous future, provided a power-sharing arrangement suitable for a heterogeneous society is devised and implemented. Here the Lebanese model might offer some guidance.
Despite the Syrian-inspired tampering in 1989 that marred somewhat its original character, Lebanon's constitution remains quite a remarkable document for a Middle Eastern country. It acknowledges religious confession as the irreducible socio-political unit in the land and officially recognizes eighteen such communities, including a Jewish one and, since 1995, a Coptic one. It enshrines the principle of proportionality in parliamentary configuration and apportions top government posts to respective sects based on prominence and on a traditional agreement: a Maronite Christian president, a Sunni prime minister, and a Shiite speaker of parliament. It retains all matters related to personal status —marriage, divorce, inheritance— within the strict jurisdiction of each denomination. And, uniquely in the region, it does not declare Islam as the official religion of the state.
Iraq, with its Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkmen, and Christians, presents a version of the Lebanese tapestry. From 1943 when Lebanon became an independent republic to 1975 when it descended into mayhem and became dysfunctional, the country operated on an unwritten power-sharing formula known as the National Pact. This was an arrangement forged between the two leading communities at the time: the Maronites and the Sunnis. Something similar could be aimed for in Iraq involving a key role for the Shiites, represented by moderate elements, and lesser proportional roles for the other communities. Naming Islam as the state religion in the new constitution might seem unavoidable in Iraq, but for this very reason balancing language that stresses respect for all sects and for the principle of religious liberty and personal freedom will be vital. As with Lebanon, a constitution centered on the religious denominations will serve as a guarantor of, not a hindrance to, any emerging homespun Iraqi democracy. In the end, both Lebanon and Iraq lend themselves to creative experimentation with some form of communally-grounded federalism?in Iraq?s case, neither leading to the breakaway autonomy sought by the Kurds, nor resulting in the tyranny of a Shiite majority.
Habib C. Malik is professor of history and cultural studies at the Lebanese American University in Byblos, Lebanon and the author of Between Damascus and Jerusalem: Lebanon and Middle East Peace (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2000).
Iraq Needs Territorially-Based Federalism
By Adeed Dawisha
To date, the United States-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has exhibited a strong tendency to appoint Iraqis to political positions based primarily on sectarian and ethnic considerations. The Governing Council created last July consisted of thirteen Arab Shiites, five Arab Sunnis, five Kurdish Sunnis, a Christian and a Sunni Turkoman —a membership that approximates the ethnic and sectarian breakdown of the population as a whole. On September 1, the Governing Council itself appointed a cabinet in which portfolios were allocated to reflect precisely the Council's own ethnic and sectarian make-up. Apparently deeming it successful, the CPA extended this practice to district and council elections in communally heterogeneous Iraqi cities and towns. The CPA determines the number of representatives for each community according to its demographic weight, and then invites members of that community to vote for their representatives.
In the wake of three decades of the Saddam Hussein regime's virulent ethno-sectarian practices, which marginalized the vast majority of Iraqi communities politically and economically, it is incumbent upon the CPA to give members of as many Iraqi communities as possible a political role. And it is understandable that the CPA does not want to be perceived as favoring one Iraqi community over others. But it is absolutely crucial to recognize that institutionalizing such practices in the forthcoming constitution would be hugely deleterious to Iraq's future. It would ingrain and legitimize particularistic identities, creating notions of 'exclusiveness' that inevitably would exacerbate dislocations among the country's various communities.
Institutionalizing ethnic and sectarian particularisms is bound in the long term to create a socio-political environment in which citizens' commitment to the 'general good' would gradually transfer to the 'good' of their narrower community. This is a recipe for civil breakdown, even for state collapse. The case of Lebanon is instructive. The sectarian-based political system, or "confessional" as it is called in Lebanon, guaranteed the political rights of each of Lebanon's diverse communities in the expectation that by alleviating inter-communal suspicion and mistrust, the various groups would remain committed to the larger entity of Lebanon. What happened instead was an entrenchment of community-based attitudes and loyalties so great that the country ended up losing a quarter of its life span to a catastrophic civil war.
This is not the path that Iraq should follow. Indeed, the recent floundering of the much-touted democratic experiment in the northern city of Kirkuk is a case in point. Kirkuk's city council, formed in May 2003, consists of Kurds, Sunni Arabs, Sunni Turkomans, and Christian Assyrians. It is beset with so many divisions that it is hardly functioning. The mayor has demanded the relocation of hundreds of thousands of Kurds to the city, prompting the Arab deputy mayor to demand a new council. The Turkomans on the council have threatened to boycott council meetings until the mayor orders Kurdish flags to be removed from various areas in the city, an issue that has precipitated armed clashes. The Christians have complained about under-representation, and Arab Shiite clerics arrived in Kirkuk to 'protect' the small Shiite Turkoman community, which is not represented in the council.
To achieve sustainable democracy in Iraq, then, particularistic attachments to ethnicity or sect should be de-emphasized. It is extremely dangerous to create in Iraq —as Kurdish leaders in particular are demanding— three federal units based on ethnic or sectarian exclusivity: a Kurdish north, a Shiite south and a Sunni center. Such a division highlights and would entrench ethnic and sectarian affiliations and attitudes, leading to highly undesirable outcomes ranging from ethnic cleansing to inflexibility in political bargaining among the federal units and between them and the capital.
Instead, a new political structure must alleviate the fear that one group will come to power and impose its interests and goals on the other groups through a strong central government. Thus, a decentralized federal system on the basis of territory, rather than on ethnicity or sect, is the best alternative for Iraq.
Creating territorially based federalism and enshrining it in the constitution allows local governments to have responsibility for all citizens in their areas, not just for ethnic or sectarian co-nationals. Thus, it is far more propitious to divide Iraq administratively into more than three units, perhaps even to keep the present 18-governorate structure. Such an arrangement will serve the various communities' interests. In addition, it could spur an attitudinal change away from blatant ethnic and sectarian concerns to more secular and political priorities that would be brought about by the inevitable competition for resources, even among the units within each community.
Iraq's ethnic and sectarian diversity is usually assumed to be an impediment to building a stable democratic structure. But this very diversity could provide the checks and balances that would promote democracy at the expense of rigid communal particularism. And the best administrative framework in which this can develop is territorially-based federalism.
Adeed Dawisha is Professor of Political Science at Miami University, Ohio and author of Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair (Princeton University Press, 2003).
By Marina Ottaway
Editor's note: the new transition plan for Iraq was made public shortly before this issue of the Arab Reform Bulletin was published. The following article provides a preliminary analysis of the plan.
The ?Agreement on Political Process? signed on November 15 by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and by Jalal Talabani for the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) provides a much needed and long overdue roadmap for the restoration of sovereignty to an Iraqi government. Unfortunately, the agreement contains numerous clauses that will make implementation quite difficult. [To read more about the plan, click here.]
The agreement calls for a two-stage process of transition. The first stage will be the formation of a transitional government. It will include the writing of an interim ?Fundamental Law,? followed by the formation of a Transitional National Assembly and of an interim government to which the CPA will transfer sovereignty before dissolving itself by the end of June 2004. The second stage will be the formation of a permanent political system. It will include the election of a constitutional convention which will write and approve a permanent constitution, a nationwide consultation process on that constitution, followed by a popular referendum, and finally elections for the new Iraqi government. The second stage will be crowded into a nine-month period between March and December 2005.
A two-stage process is the only approach that can lead to Iraqi sovereignty reasonably soon. As designed, however, the process contains several contradictions and an impossible timetable.
• Some of the principles to be included in the Fundamental Law have far-reaching implications, which apparently have not been taken into consideration. One is the principle of equal rights for all Iraqis, regardless of gender. This principle will either remain a meaningless rhetorical statement or it will require the immediate revision of much personal status and family legislation, a major controversial undertaking that should not be attempted by a transitional body. Also problematic is the principle that the component units of the federal system will include the governorates. This may develop into a major sticking point with the Kurds, who insist that a federal system should include a special Kurdish state with considerable autonomy, not just ordinary governorates with a large Kurdish population.
• The method chosen to form the Transitional National Assembly will establish a precedent for a system of confessional representation. The Transitional Assembly will be comprised of representatives of each of Iraq 's eighteen governorates. These representatives will not be elected, but selected under the supervision of the CPA by a ?governorate selection caucus? of notables, in a process similar to the one used to form local government councils. Because the participants will not be elected, representation in the caucuses and, thus in the assembly, will be based not on an electoral mandate but on the inclusion of notables from all religious, ethnic and tribal groups. This will help give the process legitimacy, but will also embed the idea of confessional representation, with lasting consequences.
• The 2005 calendar does not allow sufficient time to discuss the constitution, either within the constituent assembly or among Iraqi citizens at large. This is paradoxical, because one of the reasons behind the adoption of a two-stage process was the IGC's conclusion that it would take at least a year to write the constitution. The elected constituent assembly will only have a few months to work if the timetable is to be respected. Inevitably, the consultation process with the Iraqi public will also be very short. The likely outcome of this crowded timetable is a constitution written by experts, rather than negotiated among all political groups. This raises serious questions about whether such a constitution will prove viable or whether it will be disregarded, as Iraqi constitutions have been disregarded historically.
• Organizing an election for a constituent assembly, a referendum and a national election in nine months will tax to the limit the capacity of the Iraqi transitional government, the US government, and international elections technocrats.
• Finally, it is not clear at which point in the transition plan there will be the time to carry out a census of the population, a lengthy and difficult exercise that must precede the election of a constituent assembly in March 2005.
Marina Ottaway is a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
A New Plan for Iraq's Political Transition
A November 15 agreement between the Iraq Governing Council (IGC) and the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) lays out a new plan by which the CPA will hand over civilian power to a sovereign Iraqi government. The "Agreement on Political Process" specifies that the IGC will draft, in close consultation with the CPA, a basic law or interim constitution by February 28, 2004. A transitional assembly will be formed no later than May 31, 2004 by CPA-supervised caucuses in each of Iraq's 18 governorates. Upon the formation of the assembly, the IGC will be disbanded, and the assembly will elect an executive branch and appoint ministers. By June 30, 2004 this transitional administration will assume full sovereign powers for governing Iraq, and the CPA will dissolve. Elections for a constitutional convention will be held by March 15, 2004. A popular referendum will be held on the constitution prepared by the convention. Elections for a new Iraqi government are to take place under the auspices of the new constitution no later than December 31, 2005. To read the full text of the agreement, click here.
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Democracy Aid for Iraq
To date U.S. democracy aid in post-Saddam Iraq has consisted primarily of three programs that are large in size but rather limited in scope. The U.S. Agency for International Development's $104 million Local Governance Program provides technical assistance to Iraq's newly-formed local councils and promotes community participation in local governance. USAID's $70 million Community Action Program supports community participation in reconstruction and development. USAID's $70 million Iraq Transition Initiative provides small grants for "quick, highly visible" projects that include support for government ministries and local councils, for civil society activities, and for Iraqi human rights groups to "promote tolerance, justice and respect for the rule of law." (The National Endowment for Democracy, a private U.S. organization funded by Congress, has provided $1.43 million for programs in political party development, civic organization support, and public opinion research.)
With the U.S.'s new plan to transfer power to an interim Iraqi government by June 2004 —followed by elections for a constitutional assembly, a constitutional referendum, and national elections by December 2005— the U.S. is expected to expand democracy aid to address more core political areas such as constitution drafting, political party training, election assistance, and governance. The $83.3 billion 2004 Appropriations Act for Defense and for the Reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, signed into law by President Bush on November 6, earmarks $100 million for "democracy building activities." Experts estimate that organizing a referendum and national elections could cost as much as $160 million. Democracy aid, including assistance for elections, was not on the agenda at the Madrid Donors Conference for Iraq held on October 23.
Polls Show Iraqis Divided on Democracy
Three recently released public opinion polls indicate that Iraqis are divided on what form of government is most appropriate for Iraq. A poll conducted in September and October by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies (ICRSS), an independent research organization in Baghdad, found that 33 percent of respondents believe an "Islamic system" is the best for the future of Iraq, with 30 percent preferring "democracy" and 24 percent favoring a mix of "democratic and Islamic" systems. Sixty-one percent said there is no Iraqi political leader whom they trust. To read the detailed results, click here.
An August-September 2003 poll of Iraqis in seven cities conducted by ICRSS for the U.S. Department of State's Office of Research found significant regional differences in opinion about whether a democracy, an Islamic state, or a combination of the two is best for Iraq's future. In the northern cities of Erbil and Suleymania, half to two-thirds prefer democracy. In Basra, a plurality prefers democracy, and in Baghdad, the public is evenly divided. A plurality in Fallujah and about half in Ramadi support an Islamic state. In Najaf, there is overwhelming support for an Islamic state. To read the complete poll results, click here.
An August-September 2003 Gallup poll of residents of Baghdad indicated that 39 percent of Baghdadis prefer "multiparty parliamentary democracy" and 29 percent prefer "a system based on the Islamic concept of Shura," or consultation, as the form of government they would most like to see established in Iraq. Ten percent prefer an Islamic theocracy similar to Iran's, and 8 percent would like Iraq to revert to a constitutional monarchy similar to the one that ruled Iraq prior to 1958. [The poll did not give respondents a third option, a presidential system. It is possible that respondents understood "multiparty parliamentary democracy" to mean a democratic form of government, whether a parliamentary or a presidential system.] Only 35 percent of Baghdadis polled believe that the United States will allow Iraqis to fashion their own political future without direct U.S influence. According to Gallup, the higher a respondent's level of formal education, the less likely he or she is to favor an Islamic-based system of government, and the more likely to favor either a parliamentary democracy or a constitutional monarchy. To read the complete Gallup poll results, click here.
What the U.N. is Doing in Iraq
In the controversy surrounding a potential political role for the United Nations in Iraq, little attention has been paid to the role the organization has played in delivering emergency assistance to Iraq and planning for reconstruction. A large number of UN agencies have been active in Iraq and some have been central to the emergency relief effort.
The World Food Program has distributed food rations to virtually all 26 million Iraqis under the Oil for Food Program. Between April and October 2003, the WFP brought into Iraq and delivered 2 million tons of food. At the end of November, the Oil for Food program will terminate and the task of distributing food will be taken over by the Ministry of Trade.
Since the beginning of the U.S. occupation, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has expanded many of its previous activities. Building on the experience gained since 1997 in maintaining electricity service in Iraq with financing from the Oil for Food Program, UNDP has participated in restoring power plants and the electrical grid. It has managed a $50 million program to dredge the Umm Qasr port and remove wrecks impeding navigation, launched a $7 million program of basic infrastructure repair and job creation, and supported the rehabilitation of various water treatment plants and sewage pumping stations. It has also participated with other international organizations in the preparation of the Iraq Needs Assessment released in October 2003, prior to the Madrid donors' conference.
The United Nations Children's Fund has repaired thousands of schools, printed 5 million math and science textbooks and another 6.5 million copies of other children's books, and provided school supplies for 3.6 million students. It has vaccinated over 3 million children, delivered medical supplies, and provided emergency distribution of water in many cities.
The UN has been able to carry out these activities thanks to its 4,000 Iraqi staff members. Most of the international staff was withdrawn after the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad in August and the rest was pulled out at the beginning of November. The withdrawal of the international staff has hampered but not halted the relief program. However, it has destroyed the organization's already limited capacity to play a political role in Iraq. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq, set up by the UN Security Council Resolution 1511 of August 14, 2003, was supposed to facilitate national dialogue and consensus-building among Iraqis, assisting with the preparation of elections, and facilitating the gradual reintegration of Iraq in the international community. The departure of the international staff makes these tasks virtually impossible.
Several Middle Eastern analysts react positively to the new U.S. plan to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government by June 2004. Ali Ibrahim, writing in pan-Arab Ash-Sharq Al Awsat on November 18, rejects the idea that the new plan is a way for the U.S. to "escape" from Iraq, possibly leaving the country in a state of civil and sectarian strife. "By any rational assessment, the U.S. decision is a positive step towards returning normalcy to Iraq," Ibrahim argues. An interim Iraqi government "will be able to determine its relationship with the U.S." and establish a legal framework for the presence of American forces in the country. To read the article in Arabic, click here. The U.S. plan to transfer responsibility for governing Iraq to Iraqis is quite belated, writes Ahmed Al Robeiy in a November 18 opinion piece in Ash Sharq Al Awsat. Nonetheless, it is a positive move. Creating an interim government will "undoubtedly marginalize Saddam loyalists and the imported terrorists that have been creating such a security crisis in Iraq," Al Robeiy predicts. To read the article in Arabic, click here. Holding popular elections to select the members of a constitutional convention will not necessarily produce a body dominated by a uniform Shiite bloc, according to Amir Taheri. In a November 14 piece, also in Ash-Sharq Al Awsat, Taheri contends that "fears about Shiite hegemony have no basis." Like any community of its size, Iraq's approximately 15 million Shiites are not unified along political or socio-economic lines. Rather, Shiites belong to many different political parties and embrace a wide range of political systems from Communism to Islamism. To read the article on Ash-Sharq Al Awsat's website, click here.
Other writers comment on different aspects of Iraqi reconstruction and the U.S.-led occupation. Salem Mashkour, writing in Lebanon's Al Nahar on October 22, complains that the Arab media have focused inordinately on negative events in Iraq. They have not reported important positive developments such as the burgeoning debate about a new constitution and the emergence of newspapers free to voice diverse opinions. Mashkour asks, "When have Iraqis ever had the freedom to affect the conditions that had been imposed on them for decades? When have they been able to contribute to a discussion about their future?" To read the article in Arabic, click here.
Egyptian political analyst Wahid Abdel Majid proposes in an October 20 opinion piece in pan-Arab Al Hayat that the Iraqi Baath party should not have been banned. Instead, it should be "reconstituted along its original democratic lines" based on principles that it endorsed prior to the 1958 revolution. A reconstituted Baath party should join the Governing Council. Not only would such participation help ease tensions in Iraq, it would also have a positive "spillover effect" on Arab nationalist parties elsewhere in the region by encouraging them to embrace democratic principles. To read the article in Arabic, click here.
Jordanian analyst Kamal Rashid, writing in Jordan's Al Dustour on October 30, assesses the challenges facing the new Iraqi police force. According to Rashid, Iraqis are joining the force both out of a desire to participate in their nation's reconstruction and out of stark economic necessity. Many face considerable personal security risks. The Iraqi police have killed many Iraqis indiscriminately, as policemen have trouble distinguishing between the tens of thousands of criminals released by Saddam Hussein in October 2002 and members of the Iraqi resistance. To read the article in Arabic, click here.
The U.S.'s failure to develop democracy in Afghanistan two years after ousting the Taliban from power suggests the Bush administration cannot possibly be serious about its promise to bring democracy to Iraq, Islamist commentator Fahmy Howeidy asserts in an October 17 opinion piece in Egypt's Islamist-oriented newspaper Al Shaab. Not only is the Afghan blueprint for democracy promotion coming up short as a model for Iraq, U.S. economic interests and desire for control are far greater in Iraq. "Any discussion of full democracy in Iraq is not credible, as what Americans want in Iraq is the appearance of democracy without the actual workings of democracy," Howeidy claims. To read the article, click here.
Kurdish writer Nazar Aghry assesses the prospects for Kurds to secure their political and economic interests in the new Iraq, asking, "What is the guarantee that this new era will not turn into a cycle of rapprochment ending in misunderstanding and bloodshed?" In an October 30 analysis in Al Hayat, Aghry writes that Iraqi Arabs' suspicions that Kurdish demands for federalism are "a cover for dangerous intentions," the continuing efforts of Turkey to undermine the Kurds, and the split of the "Kurdish house" between two leaders may thwart Kurds' attempts to "determine their future." The Kurdish discourse is calmer and more pragmatic than it has been in decades, but "the persistence of a division in the Kurdish leadership is like a time bomb waiting to explode at any moment," warns Aghry. To read the article in Arabic, click here.
A November 13 report by the International Crisis Group, "Iraq's Constitutional Challenge," describes the myriad challenges Iraqis will face in creating a new constitution. Major sources of discord are likely to revolve around how the constitution distributes power between the center and the regions and what role it gives to Islam. Equally contentious may be the debate about how to write the constitution. The report urges that the debate over the constitution's drafting and content, "currently limited to a small circle of the new political and intellectual elites," must be "broadened to offer an opportunity to larger sectors of Iraqis to weigh in." To read the report, click here.
Toby Dodge's new book Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation-Building and a History Denied (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003) examines the failure of British efforts to build a modern, democratic state from the three former provinces of the Ottoman Empire that it conquered and occupied during World War I. Dodge finds that the Iraqi state created by the British "held all the seeds of a violent, corrupt, and relentlessly oppressive future for the Iraqi people." He suggests that the U.S. and Britain today are repeating many of the mistakes of Britain's earlier nation-building experience.
Developments in post-Saddam Iraq will have a major impact on the fractious political system of Iran, Anoushiravan Ehteshami argues in an article in the Autumn 2003 issue of the Washington Quarterly. In his article titled "Iran-Iraq Relations After Saddam," Ehteshami predicts that the Iraqi city of Najaf will become a new and powerful source of religious authority beyond Tehran's control. The rise of Najaf will "further deepen the policy and doctrinal cleavages in Iran's own unique Islamic political system" and "seriously [test] the doctrinal basis of a regime founded on a fairly narrow interpretation of Shiite thought." The liberation of Iraqi Shiites from Saddam's repression will empower those forces in Iran that openly question the centralization of political power in the hands of a small number of Iranian religious leaders. To read the article as a PDF file, click here.
Daniel Byman's article "Constructing a Democratic Iraq" (International Security, vol. 28, no, 1, Summer 2003, pp. 47-78) provides a detailed assessment of the challenges and opportunities to building a democracy in Iraq, with particular attention to the risks and advantages of a federal system.
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Research assistant Nada Abdelnour conducted research and translations for this issue of the Bulletin.
Editor's note: the Arab Reform Bulletin will not be published in December 2003. The next issue will appear in January 2004.