Charles Krauthammer

     The answer is to shelve it indefinitely. This is not the time for constitution- writing. This is the time for finessing. Iraq is too fractured along sectarian lines, too socially ruined by 30 years of totalitarianism, too new to the habits of democracy to be able to record in stone the kind of great cosmic compromises that are the essence of constitutions.

     Even America, which had a century of self-government before independence, needed 13 years before it could draft a workable and durable constitution. And even that one ultimately floundered (albeit, threescore and eleven years later) over the then-insoluble problem of slavery.

     Right now, Iraq is working on ad hoc national understandings. For example, the northern part of the country is essentially an autonomous Kurdish zone outside the control of the central government. For now, that works. But no constitution is going to enshrine such an arrangement. Why force a fledgling democracy to disrupt a working arrangement in the name of high principle when there is no possible principle right now that can accommodate the needs of the central government and the Kurds.

     Similarly, the vexing problems of oil rights and the ethnic balance of Kirkuk, the official role of Islam, and perhaps most crucially, the question of militias. The Kurds have theirs, as does the main Shiite party. Not the most desirable arrangement, but they are trained, cohesive and motivated to fight the insurgency.

     Both Iraq's president and prime minister endorsed their retention a few weeks ago. Constitution-drafting can only disrupt this working arrangement. No constitution will legitimize sectarian militias. Why force the issue?

     And why force the other issues? Better to have the constitutional committee simply draft, for now, one part of the constitution -- a new electoral law to govern the coming Dec. 15 elections for a permanent government.

     That can be done by Aug. 15 and would actually be useful. Trying to get a newly elected constitutional committee to decide once and for all, say, the role of Islam or the legitimacy of militias, will be deeply destructive, at the least; an enormous distraction, at the best.

     Iraqi political energies should be directed toward building a government and an army, assisting reconstruction and fighting the insurgency. Written constitutions are swell. But lots of successful places (Britain, for example) get along without one. So should Iraq, at least for now.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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