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Iraqi Constitution: Iraqi Thoughts

Edited by Yasser Alaskary
December 2003

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Executive Summary

Iraq has embarked on a transition towards democracy and a key step in this process will be the conception of a new constitution. This report, a humble first step in the necessary process of engagement with ordinary Iraqis, was put together following numerous roundtable discussions with young Iraqi men and women in Baghdad, Al-Ramadi, Najaf, Nassiriyah, and London.

Iraq would be most stable under a federal state structure where many powers are decentralized. A federal state seems to be agreed upon by most political parties based on Iraq's ethnic diversity, but arguably the most powerful case for federalism does not rest on the country's diverse ethnic makeup but on its vulnerability to dictatorship.

Using the existing eighteen-province arrangement serves as a good starting point to defining constituent units since it avoids cutting new borders which could be a recipe for future unrest:

  • Baghdad, owing to the size of its population and political importance, would need to be a constituent unit of its own.

Some provinces will also need to be awarded their own constituent unit including:

  • Kirkuk, since it is likely to be a political flashpoint owing to its economic importance as an oil producing province and its multiethnic mix;
  • An-Najaf, to give it the freedom to cater for its unique religious and spiritual importance which would not be appropriate in other regions in the country;
  • Basra, since unlike all other provinces in southern Iraq, it has a significant Sunni Arab population whose voices would otherwise be drowned out if Basra was amalgamated with any other southern province;
  • and possibly Ninawa (Mosul), based on its potential to be another political flashpoint, but it may also we worth considering merging all or parts of this province with neighboring constituent units.

Logical mergers of provinces into constituent units would include:

  • Dahuk, Arbil and As-Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, since they have had a local government for several years;
  • the sparsely populated provinces of Al-Anbar, Salah Al-Din and Diyala;
  • the ancient and densely populated provinces of Babil, Karbala and Al-Qadisiyah;
  • the tribal heartlands of Al-Muthana and Dhi Qar;
  • and the eastern provinces of Wasit and Maysan.

In dividing power between central and local governments the aim must be to give regions significant authority so that they can practice and accommodate for local norms and culture, but at the same time maintain unity and equality in the country in more than just name. For Iraq this should entail, to some degree, the sharing of many powers such as environment, health, broadcasting, and labor regulation.

Education is likely to be a sensitive issue with a struggle between building unity and respecting cultural identity. A possible solution would be to have key stages in education, defined and examined centrally, at the ages of 12, 15 and 18, with education in all other years regionally defined.

Naturally there should be some form of federal law, but it is essential that each region should be given the power to draw up its own laws and punishments to accommodate for local norms and culture. This can be illustrated in the example of An-Najaf, which will likely want to ban the sale of alcohol which would not be appropriate in many other areas of the country.

In addition to core powers generally allocated to central government, powers that would be better suited to remain with central government to maintain the unity of a developing country such as Iraq should include communications, postal services, and the oil industry - which will probably be the basis of the country's economy for at least the next decade.

The separation of executive and legislative powers in a presidential system and a bicameral parliament containing equally powerful chambers would be necessary in Iraq to build significant checks and balances which can prevent Iraq from relapsing into dictatorship. All offices of central government should be directly elected to give the positions legitimacy and increase accountability. The first chamber should be elected in general elections through a proportional representation system thus preventing "lost votes", improving country unity and focusing the agenda on political policies and not individual popularity. The second chamber, which would allow for regional representation, should give each constituent unit equal seating.

Arguably the most important aspect which needs to be successfully implemented is the rigorous application and maintenance of individual rights. As well as identifying the rights of citizens, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the constitution should provide a mechanism for the implementation of such rights. A parliamentary ombudsman should be set up, with a mandate to review all legislation and its implementation to ensure that it does not impinge upon any rights detailed in the constitution. In addition, a commission should be established to provide a mechanism whereby individuals can approach and register alleged violations of individual rights and thus provide regulation from the top and bottom.

The most effective way of preventing the emergence of a theocratic regime and to move politics away from the mosque is to include in the politic arena religious parties which are committed to only working within the legal infrastructure. The unnatural secularization of the country would inevitably alienate the majority of the population and strengthen support for extremists.

 

© 2007 Iraqi Prospect Organisation
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