Saturday, September 03, 2005

Iraqi Constitution Draft: Viewpoints from Israel

I received an E-news from Middle East Info, a Zionist NGO in Israel. It was on new constitution in Iraq, and I would like to take up two opinions from the Jerusalem Post. One praises this draft, because it assures regional autonomy to all ethnic and religious groups in Iraq. The other worries that the federal government is too weak to maintain national unity under new constitution.

As often reported in the media, there are three main ethnic and religious groups in Iraq: Kurds in the north, Sunni Arabs in the central, and Shiite Arabs in the south. The balance of power among these three groups is the key to political stability in Iraq. In addition, Turkomen and Assyrians will play an important role in new Iraq as well. Turkomen are the descendants of Turkish people came from Central Asia. Their kith and kin relations with Turkey will have a critical impact on political stability in this country. Assyrians founded a great empire in the past, and they are Christians of their own, not that of European Christianity. Some Christians, like Tariq Aziz, became deputy prime minister and foreign minister under Saddam Hussein. The media focus too much on the Big 3, but minorities are also important as well.

The draft defines Iraq a multi-ethnic country. The country brandished ambition for Arab leader under Saddam Hussein, is beginning to transform into a completely different one. Historically, various nations, including Romans, Persians, and Arabs, clashed each other in Mesopotamia. Since the collapse of the Saracenian Empire, whose capital is Baghdad, to 1920s, no nation states were founded there. Therefore, it is plausible to change Iraq from Arab state to multi-ethnic one. What will happen in new Iraq? I would like to introduce two opinions from the Jerusalem Post.

One is a pro-draft opinion, entitled “The Region: Opting out for Arabism in Iraq” on August 30. In this article, Barry Rubin, Director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center, insists that the draft is well-devised, because it allows regional autonomy to all ethnic and religious groups. He says that Sunni Arabs do not have to worry about Kurdish-Shiite domination on them, because Sunni autonomy is assured. Although Kurdish and Arabic are official language, minorities like Turkomen and Assyrians are allowed to offer school education in their own language. This is remarkable. Sunnis have no reason to be afraid of marginalization.
However, Rubin points out two problems in the draft. First, no Arab countries adopted the federal system to guarantee ethnic minority rights. All the Arab states are centralized, and it is too unprecedented to introduce a constitution that allows equal rights to all ethnic and religious groups in one country. In addition, Sunnis have considerable difficulties in adjusting to new reality, as they have been the ruling class throughout the monarchy and Baathist regimes. Sunnis accounts for 20 % of total Iraqi population, and there is no reason for them to occupy dominant position continually. However, they may be reluctant to give up their privileges.

On the other hand, Sholmo Avineli, professor of Hebrew University, warns that too strong autonomy would disintegrate the state in his article “Long litany of contradiction” on August 28. He is seriously concerned that Iraq will collapse like former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, because Article 116 says, “the regional authority has the right to amend the implementation of the federal law.” Moreover, ethnic and religious representative offices will be established within Iraqi embassies. This will make diplomatic service very complicated. Regarding oil revenues, he points out that regional authorities control over this, because Article 110 declares that income from natural resources will be distributed "fairly in a manner compatible with the demographical distribution."

Judging from both positive and negative aspects, Sunnis must understand that they will not be dominated by other ethnic and religious groups under new constitution. It is their interest to accept the constitution that allows equal rights to all ethnic and religious groups. As to oil revenue, Sunni elites have been exploiting it at the expense of Kurds and Shiites. In reconstruction, Sunnis must develop their own industries other than oil.

It is completely unprecedented to establish a federal state granting ethnic and religious autonomy. The relationship between the central and regional governments may have to be revised, but it is all Iraqis’ interest to accept new constitution and concentrate their energy on reconstruction. Whether the draft is approved or not, the coalition must stay in Iraq for the time being.