March 1, 2004

Better Late Than Never

The Iraqi Governing Council has finally agreed on a transitional constitution, two days past an American deadline but with broad agreement on its contents:

Besides a comprehensive bill of rights, including protections for free speech, religious expression, assembly and due process, it also spells out the executive branch. Under the terms of the document, Iraq will have a president with two deputies, a prime minister and a cabinet. ...

The document "strikes a balance between the role of Islam and the bill of individual rights and democratic principles," the official said.

It also contains a "goal" of having the Iraqi Parliament consist of at least 25% women, although this is not a quota. The documents attempts to establish individual rights as the basis of government, including freedom of religion, and aspires to be not only historic for Iraq but for the entire region, one official said.

The new constitution still leaves unaddressed the demands for autonomy by the mainly Sunni Kurds in the north, as well as the reactive demand for the same by the Shi'a in the south. The council reached a consensus to focus on those points where agreement could be found and to leave the rest to the transitional government that will result from the first elections later this year or early next. That government will draft a final constitution and the elected members will debate and decide the most contentious issues, rather than leave it to the present appointed council.

That approach probably represents the highest wisdom on government, and the Iraqis are to be commended for recognizing it. That's not to say that whatever decision reached will make all sides happy or would completely avoid the dangers of secession, but to attempt to make those decisions at this stage would be disastrous. It's a measure of how novel and attractive the new Iraqi reality is that the south and the north aren't scuttling talks by insisting on autonomy now, let alone secession. A united, free, and federalized Iraq would be the best of all possible results, and one that would transform the region. So far, they're still on the right track.


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