In the summer of 2005, two years after the United States sent its troops to Iraq
to topple Saddam Hussein, Iraqi political leaders are busy attempting to draft a written constitution for the country. Media coverage of their efforts has been extensive. The Bush Administration continues to insist upon the importance of completing the task, even though the arbitrarilyi set deadline of August 15, 2005 has been missed.
Each of the two leading members of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq–Great Britain, and the United States itself–have a constitution. However, the British constitution, unlike that of the United States, is unwritten. Since Iraq does not have the same history as Great Britain, with the British population’s willing acceptance of certain customs, beliefs, and practices,
it probably would do well to have a written constitution. Further, since the U.S. constitution is written, and based on the idea of a federal government, it can serve as a model to guide Iraqis in their efforts to draft an acceptable document.
In a democracy, a constitution serves as the supreme law of the land. Especially with reference to a federal system of government, the document specifically identifies which powers the national government will have and which powers member states will have. In Iraq, with three main group vying for power–the Sunnis, the Shia, and the Kurd–the constitution will have to allow for an acceptable division of political power among them.
Politics fundamentally remains the determination of who gets what in a society. In the case of Iraq, which for so many years was under the dictatorial control of Saddam Hussein, groups once repressed politically now desire to have a voice in the government. The situation is especially compelling, in light of Iraq’s oil riches. Clearly, a determination has to be made over how the country’s key natural resource of oil will be controlled and how the resulting revenues from its sale will be distributed to benefit society as a whole.
Additionally, given the importance of Islam in Iraqi society, the constitution will have to specify the role of that religion in national politics. On that matter, of course, the U.S. constitution is of no assistance, since there is a strict separation of church and state in the United States.
In view of their lack of experience in writing a constitution, together with sensitive issues such as religion and the divisoin of oil revenues facing them, it’s no wonder that those involved in drafting a constitution missed the August 15th deadline.
Whatever document they produce in the end will be expected to provide a solid foundation for the building of a functioning democracy in the country.