The Promise of Iraq’s Constitution

The constitutional process now under way in Iraq represents a hopeful milestone for all Iraqis. After decades of successively imposed constitutions, an elected assembly has overseen the process of drafting a new permanent constitution, and the draft text will be voted on by ordinary Iraqis on October 15.

Much of the current talk about the draft’s various provisions thus misses the point. Regardless of whether the referendum succeeds or fails, and regardless of the details of the constitutional text, what is most important is the establishment of constitutional processes and institutions in Iraq, before and after the referendum.

Concerning the pre-referendum phase, the National Assembly largely succeeded in this task. Although Iraq’s interim constitution gave the Assembly exclusive control over the drafting process, the Assembly wisely reached out beyond its membership in creating a constitutional drafting committee.

Iraqi leaders were well aware of the decreased participation in the election by a significant portion of Iraq’s multi-ethnic and multi-confessional mosaic, particularly the Sunni community. Accordingly, they sought out those who were under-represented in the Assembly, but whose sense of participation in and ownership of the process was essential, not merely to the constitutional exercise, but to binding the nation’s wounds. This was no mere gesture.