Middle East

Middle East

Democracy Proves Messy in Iraq

Empty chair
Gold pens rest on a table at the Baghdad convention center before the aborted signing of the Iraqi interim constitution on March 5. The document was signed on March 8 after Shiite leaders agreed to set aside their reservations for the sake of national unity (Photo: Joseph Barrak/AFP-Getty Images).

On March 8, the 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council signed an interim constitution for the country, two days after the signing was delayed when five Shiite members refused to sign over concerns that Iraqi Kurds would have a disproportionate say over the future of the country. Here Al-Adala—an organ of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose representatives on the Iraqi Governing Council stayed away from the aborted March 5 ceremony—argues that the delays are signs that “the age of force and extortion is gone forever.”

Many have asked why the signing of the Iraqi interim constitution was delayed. Some suggested that serious disagreements led to the postponement or that one side or another was boycotting the document.

But the truth is less explosive. Not everything that has been said is true, and not everything reported in the papers is true. Granted, in Iraq, it’s unusual for us to see the signing of an extremely important document postponed. But the picture is not as grim as some are trying to make it seem. Democracy is different from dictatorship and domination. We want to make decisions that will create a democratic age in which no one can impose his point of view on others. The age of force and extortion is gone forever. Different points of view will continue to compete, within reasonable limits, until a compromise is achieved. This cannot be considered to be an argument. This is a difference of opinion.

The signing of the constitution was postponed because we felt we needed to consult other parties, both within the Governing Council and outside it, in order to rule out any misunderstandings that could come up with regard to some items in the constitution. This will give more thrust to the process and will maintain and strengthen the unity of the powers representing the people of Iraq. We also wanted to make sure everyone was involved in the discussion, because many people were not aware of the interim constitution’s details until the last minute, and they had certain comments. These people, and the factions they represent, must be aware of the law’s details and be satisfied with it. This is different from the picture given by the media outlets: There was no strident opposition and no difficult crisis.

There is, however, a wide spectrum of beliefs. We must acknowledge that some are not completely satisfied with the interim constitution, especially those outside the Governing Council. But the atmosphere is positive and serious, and all sides are taking steps to find the mechanisms and methods most suitable for solving the remaining problems.

Certainly, we want to give everyone their rights. Their opinions must be represented in the constitution. The constitution is a document for the all the Iraqi people and is a kind of social contract among them. All sides, whether they represent a minority or the majority, must agree to a contract’s terms. We do not want the majority to dominate the minority or vice versa. Rather, we want a state of balance in the country.

We believe that in each country there are competing powers that make decisions. It’s been said that in the royal age, for example, each of the tribes, the royal court, and the British had their say. In the years of the republic, the army, the political parties, the Kurds, the religious authorities, neighboring countries, and the great powers all had their say. Under Saddam Hussein, the ruler became the only person who had the right to speak his piece; everybody else lost his ability to influence political decisions.

Now the government’s decisions must be taken collectively. Besides, the mechanisms governing how decisions will be made are still being formed. The laws governing elections, parties, and governmental administration are not enough to determine a country’s final point of view when the mechanisms of decision-making are being formed. The centers of power are still coalescing, the means of their interaction are still being laid out. So we must refer to these centers of power. If we don’t, the authorities will practice a kind of tyranny against the other members of society.

The Kurds can express themselves through the Parliament and parties. As for the rest of the country, it is still in the phase of formation, and this leads to jostling and discussion. We cannot make a decision and say it is made by all Iraqis. We need to make a decision, and we need to know the decision of society as a whole. Arriving at compromise may be more complicated, but it is unavoidable.