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Iraq’s Bullets and Ballots

When the Iraq war started in 2003, the Bush administration had very ambitious plans: as in post-1945 Germany and Japan, a long and peaceful occupation was envisaged, during which expanding oil production would assure rising prosperity as democratic structures were built piece by piece. The foundation was to be a liberal, even post-modern constitution, complete with a guarantee of 25% of parliamentary seats for women. 

In today’s Iraq, there is no peace and no prosperity. The constitution that will be voted on October 15th includes that 25% rule, but otherwise is far from liberal. The key provision (article 2) that no law may contradict “the undisputed rules of Islam” violates the basic principle of parliamentary sovereignty, and will prevent legislation from meeting international standards.

For example, the age of sexual consent for girls cannot be set above nine, because Muhhamad himself had a nine-year-old wife. It follows that nine-year-old girls are also adults in criminal law, and subject to capital punishment for, say, converting to another religion. More broadly, the Shias can use this provision to place their ayatollahs over the elected parliament, as in Iran, because they alone are authorized to determine the “rules” of Islam.

Outsiders and the few Iraqi liberals worry mainly about this Islamic provision, but the widespread Sunni opposition to the constitution is aimed at other provisions: the exclusion of the “Saddamist Ba’ath Party” from political life and government, and the federalist provisions that grant autonomy to the 18 Iraqi provinces and allow them to combine into regional governments.