Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Our fourth constitution in 80 years

Or is it the fifth? I forgot. Anyway, the GC finally ratified the Transitional Adminstrative Law during a brief ceremony on monday at the Baghdad Convention Center. The general reaction from the Iraqi street to this first and important step towards achieving sovereignty was one of relief, approval, and an 'okay, so let's get on with it' attitude.

Mohammed Bahr Al-Ulum (current president of the GC), Adnan Al-Pachachi, and Mass'ud Al-Barzani all gave short speeches commending the law. Ahmad Al-Chalabi seemed peculiarly jubilant. He was the first member to sign the law sitting down on the ancient desk once used by King Faisal (and which was specially refurbished for the occasion), after which he shouted "Long live Iraq!", this evoked cheers and applause from the audience. The chubby Jalal Al-Talabani cheerfully did the same move while scoffing jokingly at Chalabi.

"For the first time in history, we the Kurds feel that we are Iraqi citizens" remarked KDP leader Barzani, "And we got the federal pluralistic parliamentary Iraq". He also expressed his thanks to US president Bush, British PM Tony Blair, Ambassador Paul Bremer, and to coalition soldiers. There were news of huge celebrations in Kurdish cities following the signing of the law, and some media organizations reported that the Iraqi flag was burnt in several of them. hmmm.

12 Shia members of the GC repeated their reservations on the new law and specifically to Article 61. clause C in a statement read out by Ibrahim Al-Ja'ffari indicating that they signed the law in its unchhanged form to preserve the unity within the GC. Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim (SCIRI leader) did not attend the signing ceremony and his deputy Adil Abdul Mahdi signed in his place. He later admitted in a press conference yesterday that his absence was intentional.

At the same day, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani shortly issued a fatwa in which he stated his disapproval of the new law, describing it as 'an obstacle in the path of a permanent constitution'. No, mate, it's not. It's an obstacle in your way to put it right. Go back to your istihaza books and thick fiqh volumes, and quit meddling in our affairs until you at least apply for an Iraqi citizenship. And to tell the truth, this is a good thing because I would be actually worried if Sistani approved the new constitution. The Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi Al-Mudarrissi was also critical of the constitution, calling it a 'time bomb for civil war'. The Sunni Hay'at Al-Ulemma stressed that the constitution was a step forward but that it also had problems, one of them the fact that the law was issued by a body appointed by occupiers.

On the other hand, a spokesman of Muqtada Al-Sadr accused the coalition of imposing a constitution on the Iraqi people that would only serve its interests . And here comes the good stuff: "The constitution should be drafted according to Islamic Shari'a law and under the supervision of the Hawza which represents the constitution of the heavens. Written constitutions change from time to time but that of the heavens is fixed, unchangeable, and fulfills all of man's needs regardless of his associations. This doesn't appeal to coalition forces", and "The Iraqi people reject such a constitution, they will never accept it and will have a different stand". Tut tut, blah blah, excuse me while I go puke.

Someone definitely has to explain the concept of federalism to Iraqis immediately. People simply freak out whenever they hear this f word, and they start shaking their fists, condemning the Zionist conspiracy to split and divide Iraq, especially with the daily brainwashing effect of the Arab media.

As to the contentious clause C of Article 61. which states that "The general referendum will be successful and the draft constitution ratified if a majority of the voters in Iraq approve and if two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates do not reject it". I can't seem to quite understand why the Shia members are against this. I mean it does not apply only to the Kurds or the Sunnis, because even the Shia could benefit from this clause. Foreign minister, Hoshyar Zibari, correctly described this clause as a 'guarantee to 40% of the population that there will be no dictatorship of the majority" which makes sense.

Anyway, here is the full transcript of the Transitional Adminstrative Law. Chapter two states the fundamental rights of Iraqi citizens. Contrary to popular belief, these rights guaranteed by the constitution are not unprecedented in the region. In fact all the previous Iraqi constitutions granted such rights to the people, but they remained ink on paper. And if you read constitutions of other Arab countries you would be so impressed that you may think they were actually describing countries in western Europe, but despotic regimes in these countries have always found methods to override their constitutions by states of emergency and national security grounds.

So here is to ensure that the new constitution means what it says, and that the Iraqi people will see to that after long decades of dictatorships and abuse.