Iraqi constitutionalism (three days, 1-1/2 hours to go,
SLevinson at law.utexas.edu
Thu Aug 11 12:24:01 PDT 2005
August 11, 2005
Key Shiites Demand Autonomy in Southern Iraq as Deadline Nears
Filed at 11:11 a.m. ET
NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) - With four days left until Iraq's leaders have
promised a draft constitution, powerful Islamist leaders made a dramatic
bid on Thursday to have a big, autonomous Shi'ite region across the
The head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq
(SCIRI) spelled out his demands to tens of thousands of chanting
supporters in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf.
But minority Sunni and secular opponents, as well as rival Shi'ite
Islamists in the coalition national government, swiftly poured cold
water on an idea that fueled fears about sectarian battles over oil and
Iranian-style religious rule in the south.
Some saw it as a negotiating tactic ahead of a self-imposed deadline on
Monday to present the draft to parliament; a top Shi'ite negotiator, who
dismissed the demand made by SCIRI chief Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, said 16
points were still in dispute.
It was unclear whether the row -- and continued arguments over the
extent of Islamic law -- would delay delivery of a text that Washington
hopes can help quell the Sunni Arab insurgency.
The crucial issue is the nature of federalism and the quest for wording
to satisfy Kurdish demands for continued autonomy in the north, Shi'ite
hopes for some new autonomy in the south, and also address concerns
among Sunni Arabs and others in the center that they not be left with a
rump Iraqi state deprived of oil.
``If we can deal with that ... we should finish in the next few days so
the draft will be ready on time,'' Bahaa al-Araji, a senior Shi'ite on
the constitution drafting panel, told Reuters.
``If there were Shi'ite and Sunni regions it would simply entrench
sectarianism and destroy the unity of Iraq.''
U.S. diplomats, active on the sidelines of talks on what is a vital
project for American interests, have clear reservations about SCIRI's
traditional ties to Washington's regional foe Iran and make plain they
will not stand for clerical rule in Iraq.
Hakim, a striking figure in clerical robes whose long exile in Tehran
make him a figure of suspicion for many Sunni Arabs, was backed up in
his demands at the Najaf rally by the leader of the Badr movement,
formed in Iran as the armed wing of SCIRI.
``They are trying to prevent the Shi'ites from enjoying their own
federalism,'' Badr leader Hadi al-Amery told the crowd, which had
gathered to commemorate the assassination two years ago by a car bomb in
Najaf of Hakim's brother, the former SCIRI leader.
``What have we got from the central government but death?'' he said,
recalling decades of oppression under Sunni-dominated rule from Baghdad,
most recently by Saddam Hussein.
``We think it necessary to form one whole region in the south,'' said
Hakim, a major force in the coalition that came to power in January's
election, secured by U.S. military force.
But Laith Kubba, spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, an
Islamist from rival Shi'ite party Dawa, said: ``The idea of a Shi'ite
region ... is unacceptable to us.''
``It's a bad idea,'' Kubba told Reuters.
Yet despite the initial cold shoulder, it may be significant that Hakim
made his announcement hours after meeting Iraq's top cleric, Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in Najaf on Wednesday.
Though Sistani, who rarely appears in public, has typically made no
comment, his backing could be vital and some political sources close to
Islamist thinking say there is broader support, well beyond SCIRI, for
the autonomy project in years to come.
Hakim again pressed for Islam to be ``the main source'' of law in the
new Iraq, a proposal that alarms some women and minority groups who
already accuse SCIRI of religious vigilantism. They mostly prefer a
reference to Islam as ``a source'' of law.
If, as seems likely, the Islamists are unable to push their policies
through in the broader Iraq, it could be tempting to enact them at least
in an autonomous Shi'ite half of the nation.
Hakim and Amery's demands, by including central Iraq, went beyond a
project floated around the southern city of Basra to merge three
provinces into a new federal region.
The area from the holy cities of Kerbala and Najaf, south of Baghdad, to
Basra has a mostly Shi'ite population comprising close to half of Iraq's
26 million people.
``We hoped this day would never come,'' said Saleh al-Mutlak, a leading
Sunni politician. ``We believe that the Arabs, whether Sunni or Shi'ite,
are one. We totally reject any attempt to stir up sectarian issues to
Other participants in talks on the constitution have said that they
expect rules on how federal regions can be formed to be left vague in
the draft and held over for later discussion.
That later discussion could well see more Shi'ite pressure to create an
autonomous southern region in the years to come, with potentially great
implications for control of the vast oilfields around Basra on the
Kuwaiti and Saudi borders.
So what do devotees of federalism and the "dignity interests" of states
that fend off a rampaging national government have to say about the
Shiites? Should they be better sports than, say, New York (in US v. NY)
or Alabama (in Garrett) or Tennessee (in Lane), etc. No doubt there are
problems with the analogy. Is it because, at the end of the day, Ed
Rubin is right, and the only kind of "federalism" that is really
supported these days (by even the "respectable right") is "puppy
I am curious also about the statment that "US diplomats, active on the
sidelines of talks on what is a vital project for American interests,
have clear reservations about SCIRI's traditional ties to Washington's
regional foe Iran and make plain they will not stand for clerical rule
in Iraq." I will refrain from undoubtedly cheap shots about those parts
of the present ruling coalition in the US that seem altogether happy
with increased "clerical rule" here. What I'm curious about is what it
means to say that the US "will not stand for clerical rule in Iraq."
Will we pull out the troops? Will we shoot the clerics? Will we refuse
to recognize a government that is formed in accordance with a
constitution we don't like? Should we have any Marshallian CONFIDENCE
that these diplomats have any idea themselves what the answer to my
question might be?
An anecdote from the old days: About 40 years ago, I was discussing the
Vietnam War with a graduate school classmate (and good friend), Barney
Frank. Responding to my description of South Vietnamese leaders as
American "puppets," Barney, whose combined brilliance and sense of humor
has been a constant of his life, instantly responded that they weren't
"puppets," but, rather, "wind-up toys." I.e., we might supply the
initial energy, but then have no control over where they happened to go
(including over the edge). Obviously, his comment has stayed with me a
long time. Is this not what we've done in Iraq? Having wound up the
Shiites by liberating them from Sunni oppression (which was, obviously,
extremely real), why do we think that we can exercise any control over
them or that they will wind down in time for us to put them away on the
shelf? (Perhaps this is a political science point rather than one about
constitutional law. I presume the questions earlier in this posting
amply fall within the jurisdiction of the list.)
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