16 January 2004

Bush's self-serving Iraqi timetable

The difficult challenge facing the CPA is to help the Iraqis create a constitution that fairly and democratically balances the role of the Shi'ite majority with the Sunni and Kurdish minorities. The agreed on solution must be acceptable to Iraq's neighbors and be granted legitimacy by the United Nations if it is to endure. The design of the fundamental law and the method chosen to form the transitional national assembly are critically important to this total process because they will establish precedents for representative government in Iraq.

The Bush administration, wrongly focused on a speedy transfer of sovereignty to a friendly Iraqi government, has its priorities upside down. The real priority in Iraq today is an electoral process that ensures a legitimate government, valid in the eyes of Iraqis and the rest of the world.

The White House is concerned a summer of electioneering in Iraq, followed by elections in the weeks before the US presidential election, could reinforce the American public's image of conflict and confusion in Iraq, making it difficult for President George W Bush to declare victory in what has become the central issue of his presidency. On the contrary, Washington 's real concern should be that a hasty turnover of power next July to whatever slapdash body is formed could result in civil war by November.

What needs to be done? The declared goal of the Bush administration is to create in Iraq the most democratic government in the Arab world. To achieve this goal, the occupation authorities need to listen to all Iraqis, involving as many as possible in the creation of a durable democratic system. This means forming alliances with moderate Shi'ite groups, reconstituting Iraqi army units, involving the international community, and organizing elections for a provisional government.

The sooner the IGC is replaced by a more representative, independent and legitimate government, the better. If the Bush administration takes the time to do the job right, Bush might just end up with the victory in Iraq he so desperately wants - and needs, in spite of himself.

The article is out of date because the IGC has already issued a decree revoking Saddam's secular legislation and giving legal control of personal status to the different confessional groups in Iraq, so in a sense al-Sistani's Shari'a demand has already been met. My guess is that the transitional constitution will follow the Afghan precedent and further enhance the status of Shari'a.

The caucus system is not an election and will produce a government very like the feeble RVN governments which shattered US efforts in Vietnam. The first line of this extract is wrong. The new Iraqi constitution is not a CPA problem but a challenge for the Iraqi people. Smoke-and-mirrors may persuade the American electorate but the constitution will be a piece of paper unless it enjoys popular support.

The risk in the caucus plan is obvious to anyone, especially when the Iraqi interior ministry says it could produce a national electoral roll by September. There can be only one explanation for its adoption - the moral obscurity of the Bush administration.

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