13 March 2004

Tough Shiite

And it's not just the Kurds. As the Post reported on March 2, when Shia members of the Governing Council heard the Kurdish proposal for autonomy, they decided that they wanted the same. As a result, Article 53(C) extends the Kurdistan model to the rest of the country: 'Any group of no more than three governorates outside the Kurdistan region, with the exception of Baghdad and Kirkuk, shall have the right to form regions from amongst themselves.' There is nothing else in the constitution about what powers those super-governorates, sure to be established on ethnic grounds, will possess. But they are implicitly offered the same terms as the Kurds: legitimized internal militias and nullification authority. (Indeed, while militias per se are declared illegal by Article 27, that same provision explicitly allows for regional armed forces 'as provided by federal law.') As a senior coalition official explains, the ability of ethnic blocs to consolidate into regional ministates was intended to 'arrive at a more symmetrical federalism,' in which Iraq's other factions could match the power of the Kurds.

But there's more than one way to create symmetry. Before the war, the Democratic Principles Working Group of the State Department's Future of Iraq Project conceived of an 'administrative federalism' that would have redrawn the boundaries of Iraq's provinces in an effort to diminish the impact of ethnic or religious factionalism. 'The future all-Iraqi federation should not be one of competing nationalities,' the Working Group wrote. 'A federal arrangement ... actively seeks in the drawing up of boundaries a mixture of national[ities], ethnicities and religions in each region, not their separation one from the other.' The provisional constitution's formula is precisely the opposite: It opens the door to competing armed, ethnically based mini-states with the ability to reject federal law when they please. Is this what we went to war to create?

The point about competing, armed federal states is not, in my view, the scariest and most divisive part of the constitution. The scariest prospect is unelected governate authorities getting the right to establish super-governorates. There is absolutely no provision anywhere for the powers or composition of the executives and legislatures of these governorates.

The governorates must, at least, hold elections at the same time as the National Assembly. There is no such rule for super-governorates apart from the Kurdish Regional Government. The gaps in this document, even those to be filled later by the Annex on elections, are staggering evidence of either incompetence or malign neglect.

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