WASHINGTON -- I've never been a big fan of the Iraqi constitution project. Issues such as federalism and the role of Islam are simply too large and fundamental to be decided this early in Iraq's democratic evolution. It is more appropriately the work of years as Iraqis learn accommodation and tolerance and the other habits of self-government.
I wrote two months ago that forcing a resolution of Iraq's cosmic dilemmas by some arbitrary date could only serve to exacerbate already existing divisions. This has indeed happened. Nonetheless, the Iraqi constitution project is a fact. It has produced a document. It goes to referendum on Oct. 15. And all the lamentations and rending of garments over the text are highly overblown.
The idea that it creates an Islamic theocracy is simply false. Its Islamist influence is relatively mild. Chapter One, Article One: ``The Republic of Iraq is ... a democratic, federal, representative (parliamentary) republic.'' The word Islamic is deliberately and importantly omitted.
More specifically, the rule of sharia is significantly constrained. All constitutions have their ``thou shalts'' and ``thou shalt nots.'' In America, the constitution proper says what the government can and should do. The Bill of Rights says what the government cannot and must not do -- impose religion, force confessions, search and seize. It is the ``thou shalt nots'' that are your protection from tyranny.
The constitution writers in Iraq finessed the question of Islam by posing it as a thou shalt not. No law may contradict Islam. But it also says that no law may contradict democratic principles, and that the constitution accepts all human rights conventions.
This means that there are two gatekeepers for the passing of any law. Insofar as the constitution is adhered to (a heretofore dubious assumption in that part of the world), democratic rights are protected from the imposition of sharia. Establishing a double roadblock to new legislation is an excellent way to launch Iraq's first experiment with limited government.
In any case, the real Gordian issue was never Islam, but federalism. The Sunnis object to devolving power away from Baghdad because they happen not to be sitting on oil and have spent the last century plundering everybody else's and turning villages like Tikrit into monstrous treasure cities with the proceedings. With this constitution, that is going to stop. As it should. The only problematic proposal was for the Shiites to have the right to create a nine-province super-region as autonomous as Kurdistan.
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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