The constitution that was endorsed by Iraq’s presidential council on Sunday,
and to be put to a referendum by October 15, is an outrage against the Iraqi people.
From beginning to end, it has been written to advance US imperialist ambitions
in the Middle East, notably long-term control over Iraq’s oil reserves and
permanent military bases in the country.
For months, the Bush administration has sought to portray the constitutional
negotiations as a democratic process involving representatives of Iraq’s
ethnic and religious factions. It would, according to Washington, assist in
curbing the insurgency that has raged since the March 2003 US-led invasion and
create conditions for a staged withdrawal of American troops.
The end result is a sordid pact between the US government, Kurdish nationalist
parties and two Shiite Muslim fundamentalist organisations—Da’awa
and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)—that
will dramatically intensify the armed resistance and could plunge Iraq into
a bloody civil war. The final draft has been rejected by every significant representative
of the country’s Sunni Arab community and has not been endorsed by the
Shiite movement led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Aspects of the document are bitterly
opposed by ethnic Turkomen in Iraq’s north, Christians, secular organisations
If it were ratified, the constitution would overturn the secular character
of the Iraqi state and establish the basis for the wholesale erosion in women’s
rights and religious freedom. Guarantees of equality under the law are directly
contradicted by the second article of the constitution, declaring Islam the
official state religion and a source of law, and that “no law can be passed
that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam”. The Supreme Court that
will interpret the constitution will include individuals appointed because of
their expertise in Islamic law—in other words, clerics.
Articles such as the ones banning arbitrary detention and the handing over
of Iraqi nationals to “foreign bodies or authorities” are worthless
under conditions of a US military occupation and regular declarations of martial
law. Thousands of Iraqis suspected of being insurgents have been rounded up
and held in US and government-run prisons without charges or trial dates.
Behind the window-dressing of such formal guarantees of civil and political
liberties, the real agenda stands out. The Kurdish and Shiite parties have agreed
to a document that sanctions the privatisation of the state-owned oil industry
and the free market restructuring of the economy. Article 25 declares “the
state shall guarantee the reforming of the Iraqi economy according to modern
economic bases, in a way that ensures complete investment of its resources,
diversifying its sources and encouraging and developing the private sector”.
Article 110 (2) of the constitution declares Iraq’s energy resources will
be developed “relying on the most modern techniques of market principles
and encouraging investment”.
In exchange for permitting the US plunder of the Iraqi economy, the constitution
will allow the Kurdish and Shiite fundamentalist elites to gain control over
much of the revenue generated by the oil industry, through the establishment
of “federal regions” in the areas under their authority.
In northern Iraq, the three provinces already under the sway of the Kurdish
nationalists are codified as a federal state, with the potential to expand its
territory to include the rich oil fields around the city of Kirkuk. In the main
oil-producing area of southern Iraq, which has a majority Shiite population,
SCIRI is looking to establish a region that absorbs as much as half the country’s
The central government in Baghdad will have the power to administer only the
“oil and gas extracted from current fields,” in cooperation with
the regions. The regional states are delegated authority over all new oil fields
and therefore control over the negotiation of exploration contracts and the
bulk of revenues derived from future production.
Federalism and the de-facto partitioning of the country have been the focus
of the opposition by both Sunni organisations and Sadr’s Shiite movement,
which is primarily based in Baghdad. A federal structure thoroughly compromises
the interests of this section of the Iraqi ruling elite. It would leave the
resource-poor provinces of central and western Iraq, where the majority of Sunni
Muslims live, dependent on the largesse of the oil-rich regions.
At the same time, the federal system will facilitate the long-term domination
of the weak central government by the Kurdish and Shiite parties that won the
majority of the seats in the January 30 election. The regional governments—not
Baghdad—will have jurisdiction over internal security and the power to
establish “internal security forces... such as police, security and regional
guards”. The flow of oil revenues into their coffers makes it inevitable
that the Kurdish and Shiite elite will preside over what will be little more
than one-party mini-states, with their political opponents facing systematic
Washington’s desire for at least some degree of Sunni endorsement of
the constitution led to a personal call by Bush to SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim
last Wednesday and frantic last-minute diplomacy by the US ambassador in Iraq,
Zalmay Khalilzad. The US insisted that the constitution be modified to remove
the articles spelling out the mechanics of how a region would be formed and
to give the government elected in December six months to put them in place.
Governments and organisations across the Middle East have expressed concern
over the danger that Iraq is lurching toward a sectarian civil war and possible
fragmentation. The Turkish government, which has threatened military intervention
to prevent the emergence of a separate Kurdish state in northern Iraq, warned
during the week that it was the “closely monitoring” the drafting
of the constitution. The Saudi foreign minister stated he hoped the document
would “guarantee Iraqi national unity and Arab and Islamic identity”.
The Sunni Muslim Organisation of the Islamic Conference labelled a constitution
that was not supported by all Iraqis a threat to “lasting peace, stability
While certain modifications were made to the document, the Sunni and Sadrist
demands that the entire issue of federalism be postponed were rejected by the
government parties, and eventually by US officials.
The central US demand throughout the entire constitutional process has been
that there can be no delay in forming an internationally-recognised Iraqi government
by the end of this year. The Bush administration is guided by utterly pragmatic
and reckless considerations. It wants a regime that has the power to carry through
a sell-off of the oil industry and to sign agreements sanctioning the permanent
US military bases that are being built in key areas of the country. After months
of horse-trading, the deal with the Kurdish and Shiite factions has emerged
as the most viable way of transforming Iraq into an American client state.
The control of the Baghdad government by the Shia-Kurd bloc also dovetails
with US military plans to withdraw forces from certain areas of Iraq and hand
over responsibility to Iraqi military units. Tens of thousands of Kurdish peshmerga
and Shiite fundamentalist militia, loyal to their respective parties, have already
enlisted into the army, police and paramilitary units. They are being accused
of extra-judicial killings, arrests and intimidation of opponents of the occupation.
In the long-term, the collaboration of the Iraqi factions will potentially
permit the sending home of some US troops to placate the growing demands in
the US for a withdrawal. It will also facilitate new interventions and wars
by US imperialism elsewhere.
Over the next period, the US military will be able to concentrate its forces
in the Sunni provinces where the constitution is most opposed and where the
armed resistance is centred. The constitution can be defeated if two-thirds
of voters in just three provinces vote “No” in the referendum. Sunni
Arabs and Shiite supporters of al-Sadr make up an overwhelming majority of the
population in at least five central and western provinces, including Baghdad.
The opposition to the constitution is already developing into a campaign to
register Sunnis so as to vote down the constitution. The Association of Muslim
Scholars, the association of Sunni clerics which called for a boycott of the
January election, is supporting participation in the referendum. It has condemned
the constitutional drafting as a “political process which had been led
by the occupiers and their collaborators”. Over 100,000 Sadr supporters
demonstrated last Friday in Baghdad and other cities in opposition to a federal
If a genuine democratic ballot were able to take place on October 15 and the
constitution voted down, the implications would sharply escalate the political
crisis confronting the US occupation. Under existing guidelines, new elections
would have to be called and another attempt made to draft the constitution.
The conflicting interests and ambitions of rival factions of the Iraqi elite
are such that the entire process would collapse into a political impasse, communal
recriminations and civil war.
The same could take place if the constitution is ratified. The logic of Bush
administration’s neocolonial policy in Iraq is leading inexorably to an
escalation of violence by the US military and its allies against mounting political
opposition and armed resistance.