Iraqi constitutionalism (two 1/2 days to go)

James R Stoner poston at
Fri Aug 12 12:54:30 PDT 2005

The Iraqis are not in 1787 or 1868.  If there is an American analogy, I
think it would be to 1777 when the Articles of Confederation were proposed.
At that time the Revolutionary war effort was not going very well -- New
York and Charleston were already occupied, I think, and some winters
Philadelphia was; the following year saw the remnants of the continental
army at Valley Forge; meanwhile, the British had pulled out of
Massachusetts and I think New England as a whole.  I believe it was hardly
a sure thing that the states would pull together; indeed, the British were
counting on dividing them, from each other, between town and country, coast
and hinterland, etc.  Puritan New England and Cavalier Virginia were home
to the cousins, so to speak, of those who had fought a civil war against
one another in England a century or so before, and the German and Dutch
residents of the middle states were not always trusted, much less liked, by
those of British descent.  Of course there are a thousand differences, too,
between the American Founding and Iraq todday -- not least in the timing of
outside aid  and the nature of the enemy -- but my point is that we give
America and its constitutionalism too "Whig" a reading to presume its
success from the outset.  (As for the Articles, of course, they lay
unratified until the fighting stopped in 1781, and were seen in need of
radical reform a few years later.)

The basic principles of federalism at the founding were, it seems to me,
first, that the constitutive units were defined geographically, not
ethnically or religiously; second, that the regions/states were really
sovereign, that is, self-governing in the sense of not relying on the
center for money or organization; and third, that sovereignty could be
shared between state and center by distinguishing the tasks of each.  I
think that one reason we have had trouble conveying to the Iraqis American
constitutionalism is that we have overlooked some of its original
principles ourselves.  I don't mean by this statement to say that America
ought to be reconstituted today as it was at the start; but I do think we
need to remember where we started when we advise those who are starting out
on the experiment of self-government themselves.

Jim Stoner
Louisiana State University
poston at
Mark Graber writes:

I confess that these news bulletins suggest to me that Americans have
almost nothing to teach Iraqis about constitutionalism, or at least the
American experience has very little to teach.  Consider 1787.  There were
two major differences.  The first, between big states and small states, as
Madison pointed out, turned out more a bargaining ploy than a major
difference.  The second between the slaveholding and nonslaveholding states
was mitigated because Virginia was ambivalent about slaveholding and
northerners were not that antislavery when they could get some commercial
concessions.  Consider 1868.  The post-Civil War constitution was first
enforced by the Union army and then because the south learned to live with
the 13th amendment as long as the north stopped enforcing the 14th and 15th
amendments.  Not much there to support a constitution between people who
really dislike each other.

Mark A. Graber

>>> "Sanford Levinson" <SLevinson at> 8/12/2005 2:29:32 PM >>>
August 12, 2005

Sunnis Reject Proposal for Federal Iraq


Filed at 11:44 a.m. ET

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Angered by Shiite calls for a federal region, Sunni
clerics urged followers Friday to vote against the constitution if it
contains measures they believe would divide the country in a dispute that
threatened to delay the charter's completion by a Monday deadline.

Also Friday, a U.S. Apache helicopter crashed in northern Iraq, injuring
two U.S. forces, and a roadside bomb killed an American soldier in the
central city of Tikrit, the military said.

Iraq's three major Sunni organizations appeared to have taken a united
stand both for voting and against demands for federalism after they
boycotted the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections.

Sunni Arab leaders were responding to a demand by a leading Shiite lawmaker
for provisions to allow local Shiite control in the southern and central
parts of the country. Sunni Arabs fear they will lose out on oil revenues
if the country is split into federated zones.

''We reject it wherever it is, whether in the north or in the south, but we
accept the Kurdish region as it was before the war,'' said Kamal Hamdoun, a
Sunni member of the committee drafting the constitution. Some Shiite
leaders want to replicate the success of Kurdish leaders in the north who
govern an autonomous part of the country.

''The aim of federalism is to divide Iraq into ethnic and sectarian areas.
We will cling to our stance of rejecting this,'' Hamdoun said.

The dispute threatened to delay the drafting of a constitution, just three
days before a deadline for it to be approved by parliament.

But even if that deadline is met, the Sunnis appeared to be warning that
they could still bring down the charter when it is put before voters in an
Oct. 15 referendum, which is to be followed by general elections in

American officials have pushed hard to keep the political process on track
as they consider the process vital to maintaining momentum they hope will
undermine the Sunni Arab-led insurgency and pave the way for U.S. and other
foreign troops to begin withdrawing next year.

At the Kmeira Mosque in northern Baghdad, about 500 Sunni Arabs gathered to
listen to Sheik Ayad al-Izzi, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the
largest Sunni Arab political party that has members on the committee
drafting the constitution.

''We reject these calls (for federalism) and we look to them with
suspicion,'' he said.

The reaction came a day after Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the country's
biggest Shiite party, called for a Shiite federal state during a speech to
cheering crowds in the holy city of Najaf. He said it was needed ''to keep
a political balance in the country'' after decades of dictatorship under
Saddam Hussein, a Sunni.

Shiites comprise 60 percent of Iraq's 27 million people but were long
suppressed by minority Sunnis.

Al-Hakim's endorsement of federalism may have been a last-minute bargaining
tactic. The Kurds also have demanded federalism to maintain control over
three northern provinces and want authority over Kirkuk, from which
thousands of Kurds were expelled by Saddam.

Government officials urged compromise. ''Every group is saying that they
have stands that they cannot abandon because they are 'red lines' but in
the end, everyone is going to make some concessions,'' presidential
spokesman Kamran Qaradaghi said Thursday.

Al-Hakim is close to Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali
al-Sistani, who had been reluctant to support federalism. Although
al-Sistani has issued no statement about federalism, those close to the
ayatollah said his silence should be interpreted as support.

Sheik Mahmoud al-Sumaidaie, of the influential Sunni Association of Muslim
Scholars, told worshippers at Baghdad's Umm al-Qura mosque to register for
the upcoming votes because ''we are in need to your voice to say 'yes' for
the constitution or 'no.'''

Some prominent Sunnis have suggested that a decision on federalism should
be delayed until a new parliament is elected in December.
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