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August 15, 2005
Iraqis Extend The Constitutional Deadline

The Iraqi National Assembly has extended the deadline for the constitution for a week, creating a window for further negotiation but possibly setting precedent for ignoring whatever the committee produces:

Iraqi leaders failed to meet a key deadline Monday to finish a new constitution, stalling over the same fundamental issues of power-sharing including federalism, oil wealth and Islam's impact on women that have bedeviled the country since Saddam Hussein's ouster.

Just 20 minutes before midnight, parliament voted to give negotiators another seven days, until Aug. 22, to try to draft the charter. The delay was a strong rebuff of the Bush administration's insistence that the deadline be met, even if some issues were unresolved, to maintain political momentum and blunt Iraq's deadly insurgency.

"We should not be hasty regarding the issues and the constitution should not be born crippled," said Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, after the parliament session, which lasted a bare 15 minutes. "We are keen to have an early constitution, but the constitution should be completed in all of its items."

Jaafari has it wrong. One can build a constitution in blocks, and the American Constitution provides the best example. The effort should have focused on producing a document that delineated all of the structural points on which there was agreement, and then later work on amendments for the other issues -- which the Assembly as a whole could do. Instead, they want to wait for perfection. Had that been the goal in 1789, we would still await our founding document for the American republic.

Worse yet, the Assembly's action contradicts their current legal code. The prevailing document under which they operate specifically declares that this government had to produce a Constitution or face new elections by August 15th. That deadline had meaning, not so much for its fixed point in time but for the nature of the interim government. The only formal task that this session had was to produce a permanent legal framework for the rule of law in Iraq. It doesn't help in that effort if they had to break their interim constitution to achieve that goal.

If they can get an agreement in the next week, then the damage should be minimal. However, Sunni instransigence might not play itself out in seven days -- and then what happens? Does this Assembly keep extending its own stay in power, instead of simply asking for whatever agreement that does exist be brought to them for ratification? The Bush administration may have limits to its influence on this effort, and for good reasons, but we must let Jaafari know that our patience also has its limits. We expect the rule of law to prevail, even when it proves inconvenient.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 15, 2005 4:25 PM

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