Mar 15, 2004
On March 8, the U.S. appointees who make up the Iraqi Governing Council ratified an Interim Constitution until a permanent constitution is approved at the end of next year. George W. Bush pronounced, "it marks an historical milestone in the Iraqi's people's long journey from tyranny and violence to liberty and peace ... while difficult work remains to establish democracy in Iraq, today's signing is a critical step in that direction."
Democracy! Hardly the word for what is in the interim constitution. Oh, yes, there are some ringing words about individual rights, equal justice, and – of course – private property. But these pious sentiments mean nothing given the situation in Iraq. Supposedly, Iraqis have the right not to be subjected to arbitrary detention – but every day U.S. troops and mercenaries smash down doors, grab people and throw them in jail without charges. The Interim Constitution recognizes the right to strike – but only "within the limits of the law." That's the rub – because the "law" includes a ban on public workers' strikes, in a country where most people with a job work for government-run enterprises.
Formal discrimination against women is forbidden, but the Interim Constitution says that Islam is the state religion and the "source of legislation," which no future law can contradict. In reality, basing the constitution on Islam opens the door to all types of oppression of women. Today in Basra and in parts of the east of Baghdad, Shiite militias enforce the veiling of women, and harass women whose dress they don't like. Muslim religious leaders demand separate schools for women. If there are separate schools, the result will be that a lot fewer schools will be built for women, leaving most without a decent education. Further, Islamic religious law denies women equal rights in divorce and inheritance, and allows men to have several wives. Just hours before the signing, several hundred women demonstrated on the occasion of International Women's Day in Baghdad's Firdos Square, protesting the Interim Constitution. One of their leaders said, "We want a secular constitution. We want separation of religion from the state and from education."
The Interim Constitution says that as a goal women should have 25% of the seats in a new National Assembly. Maybe a few dozen women can occupy these posts – but the vast majority of women will continue to live in crushing misery and suffer oppression from men. In fact, all the laboring people of Iraq, men and women, are excluded from this assembly, since they need to have an education that is greater than what 70% of the population has.
How will the members of the new national assembly be chosen? Will the national assembly be appointed? Will it be elected? The interim constitution is purposely vague about this. The only thing that is sure is that this national assembly is supposed to take office on June 30.
The Interim Constitution is a compromise that gives the Kurds a certain autonomy and a veto, while they have to accept that Iraq is recognized as an Arab state. The Kurds don't speak Arabic, but their own language, so this lays the basis for future discrimination. The Muslim fundamentalists won the writing of Islamic law into the Interim Constitution, and the Shiite leaders insisted on the right to take up again the question of the Kurdish veto.
This kind of situation in which nothing is really spelled out is an open door to civil war. All the more so since the Kurds, Sunni and Shiite leaders each control their own armed militias.
Bush hailed this Interim Constitution as a step on the way to the June 30 turnover of political power to an Iraqi government. In reality, the new Iraqi government, like the old, will be appointed by the U.S. and fully accept the continuing imperialist occupation of the country. Meanwhile, the number of U.S. troops in the country is doubling in the name of a rotation of troops in and out of the country. This Interim Constitution is not a step toward a democratic Iraq, but a fig leaf to hide the nakedness of the thoroughly undemocratic foreign control of the U.S. over the country.