As enticing as are the Oscars and theological debate driven by a religious splatter film, back in the real world something extremely significant and encouraging for the future of the greater Middle East transpired today:
- Iraqi politicians agreed early Monday on an interim constitution with a wide ranging bill of rights and a single chief executive, bridging a gulf between members over the role of Islam in the future government, coalition and Iraqi officials said.
The document set national elections to be held by Jan. 31, 2005, to create a legislature, with a goal of having women in at least a quarter of the seats. But negotiators were unable to agree on many aspects of Kurdish autonomy, leaving them to be determined later.
The new constitution, a key step in the U.S. plan to turn over power on June 30, will be signed by top American administrator L. Paul Bremer on Wednesday, after the Shiite Muslim religious holiday of Ashoura ends, a coalition official said on condition of anonymity. The charter will remain in effect until a permanent constitution is drafted and ratified next year.
The coalition official said the document strikes a balance between the role of Islam and the bill of individual rights and democratic principles, by calling Islam a source, but not a primary one, for the implementation of civil law.
With approval of the interim constitution, the last remaining step is to decide how to constitute a new government to take power from the U.S.-led occupation authority June 30. The American blueprint called for choosing a legislature through regional caucuses, but the plan fell apart after Shiite clerics demanded the lawmakers be chosen in a national election.
On the third night of marathon talks, delegates from Iraq’s Governing Council gave a standing ovation when the final deal was reached at around 4:30 a.m. Monday, said Salem Chalabi, a representative from the Iraqi National Congress.
“It was a very emotional moment,” he told The Associated Press. “We established a bill of rights like no other in the region. It was quite a remarkable thing” – even more so for being hammered out in the former Military Industry Ministry, a bulwark of Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime.
“Compromises were made. Not everybody got what they wanted,” he said. But “everybody was happy.” [AP]
The significance of this is manifold: this agreement was hammered out in the nitty-gritty manner of real life democracy – no one got exactly what they wanted, all got something they could accept.
The actual terms of the agreement are epochal as well:
- One of the toughest issues was how to enshrine Islam in the charter.
U.S. officials and liberals on the council succeeded in ensuring Islam is “a source” of legislation out of many – as opposed to the principle source as conservatives had sought.
Fundamentalists backed down after a clause was included underlining that no legislation will be passed that contravenes the tenets of Islam, several council members said.
….The charter has a 13-article bill of rights, including protections for free speech, religious expression, assembly and due process and spells out the shape of an executive branch.
Under the terms of the document, Iraq will have a president with two deputies who would choose a prime minister and cabinet. Chalabi said decisions by the presidents and deputies would have to be unanimous.
….The United States, which plans to open its largest embassy in the world on July 1 in Baghdad, will still exert considerable diplomatic influence on the fledgling Iraqi government. More than 100,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq after power is handed over.
The Iraqis worked this out for themselves, individual rights are protected, sharia will not be the law of the land, islam is (realistically) acknowledged. This is monumental.
Is Iraq better off now than before the war – without the slightest doubt.