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Iraqi Voices


December 18, 2003


Saddam and the Fosbury Flop

On Sunday 14 December 2003, a typical first reaction to the capture of Saddam Hussein in East Oxford, England – the tiny patch of earth where I live – was: “Everything the Americans say is a lie. It can’t be Saddam”. Then, when it seemed pretty clear it was Saddam, the reaction turned to: “This is bad news because it will help George Bush get re-elected”.

On Monday, Globolog spoke to Yasser Alaskary of the Iraqi Prospect Organisation (IPO), a group set up by young exiles in London which has now moved much of its activities to Baghdad.

“It’s wonderful” he said on the phone from a vigil in central London. Yasser, who took part in a debate on openDemocracy exactly a year ago on the rights and wrongs of invasion, had great happiness and warmth in his voice. “Friends, colleagues, everyone we know in Iraq feels like an enormous burden has been lifted. People in the rest of the world will find it hard to understand just how great our feeling of relief is. The fact that he was so humiliated is deeply important. He had such an aura, such extraordinary power deep in people’s psyches for so many years”.

What now?

As any given hundred commentators may tell you, the future of Iraq is still highly uncertain. Security, for one thing, may not improve markedly any time soon. According to the Washington Post, for example, in the eight months that Saddam has been on the run, the resistance has gathered a momentum of its own. The US authorities, meanwhile, seem determined to accelerate transfer of some powers to an Iraqi authority whose constitutional basis is still to be determined.

Yasser and his friends at the IPO have been working on something they believe can be part of a long-term solution. Over the past few months, they’ve held a series of roundtables with young Iraqis in universities, young graduates and members of youth organisations in Baghdad, Najaf, Al-Ramai, and Nasiriya. They call the result, Iraqi Constitution – Iraqi Thoughts a “humble, first step in the necessary process of engagement with ordinary Iraqis”.

The IPO strongly opposes to define the constituent provincial units of a future Iraqi federation so as to allow a balance between local and central powers that will help avoid the country falling into one of the two traps of anarchy/dictatorship and separation. Too few units would strengthen tendencies toward political separation, Yasser and his colleagues believe; too many would undermine political stability and economic progress.

They are strongly against the kind of arrangement seen in countries like Lebanon (from where I write), where different communities and religious groups have divided up key government posts between them (here, the speaker of the parliament is Shi’a, while the president is a Christian). Instead, a two-chamber legislature and president with executive powers should be elected on the basis of proportional representation “We want people to stand up as Iraqis”, says Yasser.

Protection of human rights and the rights of minorities, based on the Universal Declaration, should be enforced by a parliamentary ombudsman, with a mandate to review all legislation and ensure its implementation does not impinge on any rights in the constitution.

Can it work?

Quite a few people may dismiss this proposal for Iraq’s future as pie in the sky. It’s certainly not hard to imagine a far less ideal arrangement coming into place, resulting from local manoeuvring and US thoughtlessness.

But just because something has never been done before does not necessarily make it impossible. In 1968, a young man from Oregon called Dick Fosbury jumped higher than had ever been thought humanly feasible. He used a new technique, called the Fosbury Flop. Now, everybody does it. Some things are worth a try, even though you may well end up face down in the earth or belly-up.

© 2007 Iraqi Prospect Organisation
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