The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Iraq's new constitution:
Paving the way for religious rule and civil war

Aug 29, 2005

After missing the third deadline they had set themselves for finishing Iraq's new constitution, Shiite and Kurdish members of the constitutional committee announced on August 27 that they were ready to put the constitution to the vote of the Iraqi people. But even these politicians admit that they haven't been able to come up with a document that has the approval of the Sunni members of the committee.

At the heart of the dispute is the question of how oil revenues will be divided. Two of the three major groups represented on the committee, Shiites and Kurds, want Iraq to be a federation divided into autonomous regions, while Sunnis insist on a central administration. This is because Iraq's rich oil fields happen to be concentrated in the south and in the north – regions controlled by Shiite clerics and Kurdish warlords, respectively. Those parts of central Iraq where Sunnis are the majority, on the other hand, have little oil.

This is a fight about what clique of gangsters will get to plunder Iraq's wealth – a real fight which will not be resolved on paper, no matter how the constitution is worded. Violence is already an everyday reality in central and south Iraq. Bombings targeting civilian crowds, especially Shiites and Sunnis, and the dispute over the constitution look like signs of a bloody, destructive civil war in the making – including within each broad group. Last week, for example, Shiites supporting Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, attacked Shiites supporting Muqtada al-Sadr, a cleric with a strong following among poor Shiites who opposes dividing the country up. At least six Sadr supporters were killed, and dozens were wounded.

These U.S.-approved "leaders" of Iraq may disagree violently and passionately about how to share the loot. They are, however, in complete agreement on one issue – that Iraq should become a country ruled by religion. The second article of the new constitution states that no law may be legislated which contradicts Islamic law, that is, the Sharia. This directly turns on its head the pretense of the same constitution that all citizens are equal. For this "Islamic law" sees women as half persons. According to Islam's holy book, the Koran, women inherit from their parents only half of what their brothers inherit, and it takes two women witnesses to neutralize the testimony of one man before a court of law. As for marriage, a man is allowed to marry up to four women, while a woman can't marry more than one man; and only men can request a divorce!

It is truly outrageous that this new constitution will thus overturn Iraq's present civil code, one of the most modern in the Arab world. In fact, whatever rights Iraqi women enjoyed are already under attack. In south Iraq, where Shiite mullahs are in charge, thugs routinely harass women who go out without covering their entire bodies. Iraq is well on its way of doing away with its decades-old secular traditions and turning into another Middle-Eastern country ruled by thousands-of-years-old religious codes.

As brutal and repressive as Saddam Hussein's dictatorship was, the U.S.-sponsored "new" Iraq, facing civil war and backward religious laws, is even worse off. But then, this is hardly a surprise. In fact, submitting their country to medieval religious laws seems to be a pattern among Middle Eastern regimes that are friendly with, in fact propped up by, the U.S. Just look at Saudi Arabia, which to this day doesn't allow women to drive. Or, for that matter, Israel, which grants immediate citizenship to any person of Jewish religion, while it denies full citizenship rights to Arab Israelis who lived on that land even before it became Israel.