Jewish World Review March 12, 2004 / 19 Adar, 5764
In the dangerous neighborhoods, cause for hope, if not yet optimism
Afghanistan adopted a new constitution in January. Iraq approved a
transitional administrative law this week.
So, what kind of governments are being established to replace the
repressive regimes swept away by American military power?
The Iraqi transitional law states that "(t)he system of government in Iraq
shall be republican, federal, democratic and pluralistic …."
The key attribute is federal. The transitional law purposely sets up a weak
and divided central government. Most of the governing authority is devolved
to local governments.
The central government is largely limited to foreign affairs, national
security, trade and the monetary system.
The presidency is vested in a three-person council (a president and two
deputies) selected by the unicameral legislature, the National Assembly.
The Presidency Council has to be approved as a slate by a two-thirds vote.
The Council can only act unanimously. And its principal function is to
choose a prime minister, who actually runs the government.
This is clearly an attempt to bridge the deep ethnic, religious and
geographic divisions in the country, between the Kurds, the Sunnis and the
And the glue intended to hold the country together is oil. The transitional
law nationalizes the country's natural resources and provides for
distribution of oil revenues proportionate to population.
That may be good politics. But it's not the most productive way to leverage
oil for the country's economic diversification and advancement.
While this is a transitional document, it's intended to lock in the federal
system and large devolution of authority to local governments. An elected
National Assembly is to draft a permanent constitution, subject to a public
referendum no later than Oct. 15, 2005. But even if approved by a national
majority, the new constitution will not go into effect if disapproved by
two-thirds of the voters in at least three Iraqi states.
Shiite clerics have criticized the transitional law, saying it lacks
legitimacy because it wasn't adopted by an elected body.
But the real objection appears to be the federal nature of the system and
large devolution of authority to local governments. And that's not good
It's hard to see how the country is kept together except through
significant devolution. And if the country breaks up, the fight over oil
could be bloody.
The transitional law does recite the individual rights governments should
protect, including freedom of religion, speech and property and equality
under the law. But Islam is declared the official state religion and laws
contrary to it are prohibited.
On the ground, theocratic influence appears much stronger than political
leadership. And where the Shiite clerics are headed is unclear.
In Afghanistan, the theocratic influence is more overt and official. As in
Iraq, Islam is the official state religion and secular law has to be
compatible with it.
But the Afghan constitution goes much further. The president of the country
has to be a Muslim. Political parties that aren't compatible with Islam are
forbidden. Public education is to be based on Islam.
The state is to eliminate family practices "contrary to the principles" of
Islam. And much of the governmental judicial system is based on Islamic
In short, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is moving toward a truly secular and
But they do appear to be moving toward representative governments.
Elections are scheduled in Afghanistan for this summer, and for Iraq by the
end of January, 2005.
Theocratic state influence is not, per se, contrary to U.S. interests,
particularly if leavened by representative government. Israel is a
self-proclaimed Jewish state. England, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland
all have official state religions. None keep American security officials
awake at night.
The Bush administration has overstated the extent to which American
security is dependent on the spread of democratic governments that respect
and protect individual rights. With respect to security, the intent of
other nations is more important than their character.
Nevertheless, the initial steps toward the rule of law in both Afghanistan
and Iraq are cause for hope, if not yet optimism.
JWR contributor Robert Robb is a columnist for The Arizona Republic. Comment by clicking here.
03/01/04: Greenspan view scary, but Dems in denial
02/27/04: How not to achieve a mandate
© 2004, The Arizona Republic