Iraq constitution (still yawning)

Steadfast JWN readers will recall that I wrote here a week ago that I judged the current flurry of discussions in Iraq over a new, “permanent” constitution to be quite unrealistic and therefore a big yawn.
I still do.
And the sheer chutzpah of the American occupation chiefs over this whole issue is truly mind-boggling.
The Iraqis had their election on January 30. US “Ambassador” John Negroponte shortly thereafter left town… The Americans took no political initiatives at all regarding Iraq for many long months… The security situation for the Iraqis almost immediately deteriroated radically… Six months later “Ambassador” Khalilzad finally deigns to show up… And his big message to the Iraqi political bosses is suddenly “Hurry up guys! Get this permanent constitution done! You only have three weeks left to do it! We cannot extend the August 15 deadline!”
Gimme a break. Is that really supposed to be a serious way to facilitate/shepherd an extremely momentous– yes, even truly existential— negotiation over the future governance of Iraq??
Of course not. That’s why I think that any piece of paper that comes out of these hurried, Washington-coerced “negotiations” will scarcely be worth anything.
But in the mean-time, these “negotiations” have underlined what some of the key issues will be… Huge issues, like identity, the role of Islam in the Constitution, the degree and nature of federalism, language rights, the relations between different sub-groups, etc.
In South Africa it took just over three years– from 1990, when Mandela was released and the ANC and other anti-apartheid movements were decriminalized, to the point where the ANC and the National Party reached agreement on the format and modalities for the 1994 elections– for the leaders of these already well-defined political movements to come to basic agreement on their continued coexistence within one fully democratic South African state.
Along the way they had to wrestle with exactly the same kind of issues that the Iraqi parties are. (With the exception of the question of the “role of Islam.” But of course, for the National Party and many Afrikaaners, keeping the definition of SA as a “Christian Nation” was something they felt very strongly about.)
In Iraq, as I’ve noted before, the party system is far less well developed than in South Africa in 1990. Which makes the negotiating even harder to conduct.
So why on earth should Zal Khalilzad imagine that he can accomplish in three weeks what it took De Klerk and the ANC more than three years to accomplish??
… Anyway, I just wanted to further clarify why I don’t think the minutiae of the current discussions on the “permanent” constitution are worth paying too, too much attention to.
Meanwhile, let Khalilzad and all his backers in Washington remember that they don’t actually need to “achieve” an Iraqi constitution in order to get out of the country… All they need to do is leave. If they tell folks that that is what they intend to do, hundreds of different parties, organizations, and governments around the world will be happy to help them find a way to do that.

Faiza, Khalid, Raed

There is a lovely meditation on Faiza’s blog last night. She was recounting a conversation she had with God recently…

    we said after the war : OK, this is America coming to Iraq , it will teach our new leaders how to respect human rights , and how to accomplish democracy in our country…we were anxious to see how is the freedom and democracy look like !
    but now, after two years and more, we are depressed, and fled out of our horrible life in iraq. and still dreaming that one day we can really achieve freedom and democracy in our country
    i mean real one , not fake …
    and still believe that we all can work to make the change we want , its not individual dream or action, it should be done by the big groups of people…
    and God is watching and waiting to see our actions..
    and in the judgment day He will ask everyone : what you have done to help oppressed people on earth ?
    what you have done to achieve justice and peace on earth?
    its our responsibility….
    God will never send angels to make peace on earth… its our responsibility…
    my heart still sad for iraq and iraqis..
    but still i have hope that we can all work together to stop this madness .

And here is a long post on her son Khalid’s blog describing what happened to him during his recent imprisonment. He got beaten a few times, but met many people inside the Ministry of Interior building where he was held who had been treated a lot worse than he was. Most of them were, like him, Sunnis. (He comes, actually, from a mixed Sunni-Shiite family.)
The “reason” they picked Khalid up was because at the university where he studies he’d been surfing the internet and reading the comments on his brother Raed’s blog…
Three days or so after his detention, he was taken before a judge:

    On Thursday, the judge decided that I was innocent. He figured out that the papers [i.e. the printouts from raed’s blog’s comments section] were from a public forum, and he didn

Iraqi constitutional big yawn

So here’s why right now, as opposed to a few months ago, I’m not getting myself all worked up over Iraq’s constitutional discussions:
I don’t think that at this late date they can make even the slightest bit of difference.
Islam as “a” source of legislation, “the” source, “one of the primary sources”?
Borders of the Kurdish region?
Or maybe rather than finding these discussions boring, I should more accurately say that I think that at this point they’re almost totally irrelevant to the long-term future of the country.
Right now, they’re only being pursued with the current “energy” because of the imminent approach of the Aug. 15 deadline mandated in Paul Bremer’s highly mechanistic and undemocratic TAL document.
Now it’s true that I wrote just over two weeks ago that it looked as though the Bushies were now,

    using the adoption of this hastily scrawled [constitutional] text as their pretext for — well, if not a total exit (though that would indeed be nice, wouldn’t it?)– but at least, a significant drawdown in the US troop levels….

So since I am definitely in favor of a rapid and total withdrawal, perhaps I should be cheering for a rapid conclusion of the constitutional discussions?
But no, I’m not. I think the Bushies will go ahead and do whatever they feel they need to do, deployment-wise or withdrawal-wise, regardless of whatever piece of paper a bunch of “Eye-racki” pols in Baghdad come up with at this point. It is ways too late now for any serious constitutional discussions to be held between now and Aug. 15.
(How long did it take the US Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to complete its task?)
So by far the best quote I’ve seen so far on the current Iraqi constitutional discussions is this one, from Kurdish constitutional committee member Mahmoud Othman:

    The Americans want to make a quick constitution… They have a lot of experience in fast food, but they can’t make a fast constitution.’ (Reuters, Baghdad, July 31)

If I thought more about it might I conclude, as I was edging toward in that July 15 JWN post, that “locking” a constitution favorable to the Bushites’ interests in place might be a real danger to world peace? Somewhat analogous to Israel’s Likudniks having locked the extremely one-sided “May 17” agreement in place with the government of Lebanon back in 1983, but considerably more momentous?
Nah. In the end the May 17 agreement really didn’t constrain the Lebanese political system from doing anything much at all. It muddied the political-diplomatic waters inside Lebanon for a little while… But meanwhile, it also clarified a lot of issues that had previously been quite murky. It was never ratified or implemented, and sank in the water from the deadweight of its own improbabilities less than a year after it was signed.
I think any Iraqi “constitution” that is agreed on now, under the pressure of the US occupation presence, would have a roughly similar fate. That’s why I can’t get very excited about the issue.
Zzzzzzz. Wake me when it’s over.

Column on withdrawing from Iraq

My column calling for a total, speedy, and generous US withdrawal from Iraq is in today’s CSM.
In it, I write:

    The interests of both Americans and Iraqis have been badly harmed by the three-year US occupation of Iraq (though far more Iraqis have suffered than Americans). If these two peoples are to be saved from further – even cataclysmic – harm, then Washington must quickly devise and implement a withdrawal strategy that’s total, speedy, and generous to the Iraqi people.
    Some Americans seem not to understand how deeply, in most postcolonial societies, including Iraq, the fears of foreign domination still linger. So long as President Bush refuses to set a date for withdrawal, these fears will continue to multiply. No Iraqi political forces, except some in the Kurdish north, can be expected to support a long-term US troop presence in their country. (Kurdish leaders who think this might be a good idea would do well to remember the lawless condition of Kosovo, six years after its partial “liberation” by Western armies.)

I then go on to respond to some commonly voiced objections to this proposal…
Read it and tell me what you think.
Interesting to note that the rightwing Republican Congresswoman from Flordia Ileana Ros-Lehtinen yesterday succeeded in attaching to a bill on US international spending a (non-binding) amendment opposing a “premature withdrawal” of US troops from Iraq and stating that setting any date for the withdrawal would “embolden” terrorists.
Congressional Quarterly reporter Gayle S. Putrich– sorry, no link– wrote that Ros-Lehtinen said from the floor that,

Trials of trying Saddam, revisited

Ways back in mid-december 2003, right after Saddam Hussein was captured, I wrote here:

    No doubt about it: the trial of Saddam Hussein has many, many political aspects to it. It certainly won’t be the simple, gloating “victory lap for the Coalition” that many in the US media now think it may be.

Time has proven me right. Indeed the chaotic jousting over who gets to make the key decisions in this case that I predicted back then has continued till today, and is currently escalating.
Today, the NYT’s John Burns is reporting that:

    The Iraqi tribunal preparing the trial of Saddam Hussein has been thrown into turmoil by the dismissal of nine senior staff members and a threat to dismiss 19 others, including the chief investigative judge.

Burns said that the issue burst into public view Tuesday when one of Ahmed Chalabi’s aides,

    confirmed that Mr. Chalabi had begun to press for the removal of former members of Mr. Hussein’s ruling Baath Party from the tribunal’s staff of judges, prosecutors and administrators. Mr. Chalabi contends that the 28 men he has cited for removal are ineligible under Iraqi law to work at the tribunal because of their party affiliation.

Burns also reports that Chalabi contends that the “Iraqi” Chief Judge of the Special tribunal, Raid Juhi, should be among those dismissed– but had agreed to hold off from pushing for this.
Today, AP confirms that nine, relatively low-level employees of the court have indeed now been dismissed– and adds that, “The cases of 19 others, including the chief investigative judge [Juhi], are under review.”
This, at a time when the eminent Egyptian-American international law expert Cherif Bassiouni has just published an open letter to Iraqi PM Ibrahim al-Jafaari urging him, among other things to, “Erase the American Footprint” from the trial process. Pointing out the many ways in which the “Iraqi” Special Tribunal is in fact a US creation, Bassiouni writes:

    A large segment of the public in Iraq and the broader Arab world suspects that the tribunal is an attempt by the United States to divert attention from its own abuses in Iraq (and at the Abu Ghraib prison, in particular) and to justify the invasion by focusing on Saddam

Name that plan!

I’ve been thinking that, to really “market” the proposal for a US exit from from Iraq that is total, speedy, and generous, it needs some kind of a snappy name.
I was thinking “Clean Break”
Oh shucks, was that title already trademarked back in 1996 when Richard Perle, Doug Feith and Co. used it to label the piece of advice they were giving a foreign leader to the effect that he should seek to subvert the long-time committed policy of the US government regarding the Israeli-Arab process, and handily gave this foreign leader “insider advice” on how he could do this?
You may recall that the Perle/Feith “Clean Break” document also urged the foreign leader in question to focus on, ” removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq”…
Well, gosh. That foreign leader (Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu) never did have the guts to do that. But plucky stalwarts Perle, Feith and Co. then managed to get another government to do it for them…
My government, here in the US.
Yes, I definitely think we should appropriate that title– for the policy that we Americans should seek to pursue towards today’s occupation in Iraq.

A too-weak ‘alternative’?

Carl Conetta, co-director of a small Washington-based
NGO called the “Project on Defense Alternatives” has come out with a six-point
for arriving at what he– somewhat misleadingly– calls a
total US troop withdrawal from Iraq within 400 days
. Misleading,
because if you read the fine print in his plan, he is advocating a process
that would involve:

  1. the US continuing to try to control the internal-Iraqi politics of the
    entire “withdrawal” process, and
  2. the US still, after those 14 months, leaving “2,000-3,000 US troops
    … in Iraq to participate in multinational military training and monitoring
    missions, commanded by NATO and under a three-year UN mandate.”

So I would say that, while Conetta’s proposing of this plan shows that yes,
there is indeed a rising groundswell of opinion in some parts of the US punditocracy
in favor of a withdrawal from Iraq– and Conetta’s sensing of this may well
be what led him to describe his plan as one for a “total” withdrawal–
still, this plan is far too timid and, if I may say, too uncognizant
of regional realities in that part of the Middle East, to be realistic and

In fact, Conetta’s plan adds little or nothing to the one laid out in
this July 15 NYT op-ed

by former CIA Director (and MIT professorial brainiac) John Deutch. In
it, Deutch built on the
remarks he’d made

back on June 7 that urged a US withdrawal from Iraq, and told the NYT-reading

Continue reading “A too-weak ‘alternative’?”