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The Handover Dilemma

By Yasser Alaskary
Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Iraq has reached a critical stage in its transition towards democracy.

  • The Constitutional Committee, set up back in August by the Governing Council, has failed to provide a solution for the problems surrounding the selection of delegates to write the draft constitution and little progress has been made to resolve this.
  • The Governing Council has an upcoming deadline on December 15th to submit a timetable, for the drafting of the constitution and general elections, to the UN Security Council.
  • Against this backdrop are the forthcoming US Presidential elections, due to be held at the end of 2004.

Bremer has suddenly flown to Washington, canceling a planned meeting with the visiting Polish prime minister at the last minute. This clearly demonstrates that something urgent and important is about to be decided upon.

The Dilemma

The problem is essentially that of time:

  • Most Iraqis and many Governing Council members hold the view that the constitution is the most important component for Iraq's future democracy and stability, and as such do not accept anything less than general elections to choose delegates for the national assembly that is due to write the draft constitution. However, general elections will require a census, as well as other organization, before they can be held. Such a process would require significantly more time compared to simply hand-picking the delegates.

  • The UN Security Council resolution requires that power is handed over to an internationally recognized, representative Iraqi government. The thinking has always been that the coalition hands over power to an elected Iraqi government, following completion and acceptance by Iraqis of a constitution. However, with US Presidential elections at the end of 2004, Bush is under pressure to make sure power and responsibility has been transferred over to Iraqis and most troops have returned before elections.

Iraq has reached a fork in the road. In essence the dilemma comes down to which is more important:

  • a constitution written by elected Iraqis who, it can be said, truly represent Iraqis,
  • or leaving Iraq in the hands of elected Iraqis?

It is clear that Iraqis place greater importance on the former and therefore it is only logical that external time constraints should not influence Iraq's political process, a mistake that could easily spell years of instability for the country and region. Surely a strong democratic basis can only be built by a constitution that is written democratically.

What this means

To undertake such an option means that power and responsibility will be handed over to the Governing Council and its cabinet, in a transitional government. The UN Security Council resolution only specifies that handover should be to an internationally recognized, representative Iraqi government - it does not specify whether this should be elected or not, so this option would not be in breach of any resolutions.

The last week has seen intense scrutiny of the Governing Council, with claims that it is not representative enough and even talks of scrapping it. While the council is the most representative Iraqi government in all of Iraq's history, there are still sections of the Iraqi population that are not represented. Despite media reports that would seem to suggest the contrary, the greatest lack of representation comes from the Arab Shi'a population. Many southern tribal leaders have been left out, as well as religious leaders who have significant sway in the country.

The Governing Council will no doubt need to be expanded and it is vital that it strives to be more representative than it already is, and not less. It must not reaffirm minority rule, on the contrary it must be proportionally representative of the people of Iraq. The Salahudin percentages, which the Iraqi political parties are agreed upon, are the clearest indicator for how this needs to be done.

Transitional Constitution

While ideally it would be reassuring to hand over to an elected Iraqi government, the importance of the constitution outweighs this aspiration. Since this will mean the transition phase will be longer by as much as 12 months, a temporary constitution must be adopted that strictly incorporates the timetable that is set to be announced on December 15 by the Governing Council. This will address the concern that exists in handing over power to a transitional government instead of an elected one.

 

© 2007 Iraqi Prospect Organisation
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