No Final Vote Yet in Iraq
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GWEN IFILL: Chris Allbritton, welcome. So help us understand what happened today. There was no vote taken, there was a draft constitution submitted. And there was a three-day delay agreed to. What happened?
CHRIS ALLBRITTON: Yeah, it’s kind of a complicated issue. Last week the TAL — the Transitional Administrative Law — required that a draft be submitted to parliament by Aug. 15. Well, the parliament decided to amend the TAL, not extend the deadline, but to amend the TAL that would allow them an extra week. It’s a bit of a technical loophole.
Tonight, they were bound and determined to get a draft in, and they did. But there was nothing in the TAL that required the parliament actually vote on it. I’ve been reading the TAL since march 2004 when it was drafted, and while I’m not a lawyer, there doesn’t seem to be anything in the TAL that says the parliament actually has to vote on it at this point, it just has to be submitted in time so that they can debate it, then we have the logistics of having the referendum, and then on Oct. 15 they’ll apparently send the draft — so that appears to be what happened.
They’ve come up with a draft, there are some outstanding issues, there seems to be some tinkering going on that’s going to happen with federalism and possibly the role of Islam. And it seems they did a sneaky little end run around the deadline by technically meeting it but not quite meeting it.
GWEN IFILL: So technicalities aside, what are the outstanding issues that you can tell that people are saying are still out there?
CHRIS ALLBRITTON: The biggest one, and it seems like this is the real one, is the issue of federalism. Sunnis hear federalism and they go kind of crazy. They think it means that they’re going to split up Iraq into a loose federation sort of like the original Articles of Confederation that the United States had before the U.S. Constitution.
They see the Kurdish zone, they’re fighting with the Kurdish zone up there, they don’t want them to have Kirkuk, but they’re fine with letting the Kurds have what they have right now, which is a high level of autonomy and relative self government.
They are absolutely opposed to extending that to the Shiite South, which the Shiites headed by Abdul Aziz al-Akim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, had pushed for a massive Shiite federal district made up of half of the Iraq’s 18 provinces in the South, which would be as autonomous as the Kurdish district. The Sunnis are absolutely opposed to this and say this will lead to the partition of Iraq and open the door to Iranian influence and all sorts of other horrible things.
GWEN IFILL: Sounds like a tough thing to resolve in three days. But also you alluded to the question of the potential for an Islamic republic arising out of whatever they agreed to. Is that a big sticking point?
CHRIS ALLBRITTON: Well, it seems, now, granted no one has really seen the draft of this yet, so we can’t really say, because it was only cited about an hour ago, but it seems that there has been an agreement on the role of Islam in this constitution; it will be a main source of legislation. What that means is that it won’t be the main source, which is kind a concession to some of the secular people on the drafting committee, some of the Sunnis and some of the Kurds.
At the same time there seems to be an article, from what I’ve heard, there seems to be an article in the constitution that says no law shall be written that will violate the agreed upon tenets of Islam, which could be a big sticking point. It seems to open up the possibility that there could be a parallel religious court equal in stature to a Supreme Court that would act kind of like the American Supreme Court, but the religious court would basically vet laws to make sure that they meet with these universal tenets of Islam.
The problem with that, there are several problems, but one of the problems is that no one really agrees upon what the tenets of Islam are. There are several different schools of Islamic jurisprudence and no one knows which one will be used; some are more conservative, some are more liberal, and without a doubt it can be used to place personal status law, such as the role of women, family law, children, inheritance, divorce, marriage, that kind of thing, under religious courts, which almost always do not benefit women who, until now, have enjoyed a relatively liberal set of rights under the previous regime’s constitution.
GWEN IFILL: Now let’s talk a little about the evolution of the U.S. role in all of this, because we saw several weeks ago Donald Rumsfeld and others saying this deadline, that is the Aug. 15 deadline, was very important. Last week when that was missed we saw Secretary of State Rice say, well, this is just a tumult of democracy; this is something that is going to work itself out. And today the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzhad, has been saying, well, this is still a huge step forward. Where is the U.S. in this, and especially the role of the U.S. Ambassador?
CHRIS ALLBRITTON: The U.S.’s role in this has been always a very push, push, push. They’ve really wanted this thing quick. And they’ve wanted it almost at any cost. A few days ago, a couple weeks ago rather, Ambassador Khalilzhad said that women’s rights were absolute. Well, yesterday or the day before yesterday, it came out that, well, maybe they weren’t quite so absolute after all if it would hold up the constitution, another delay.
So the U.S. has been pushing very hard to get this constitution, but it does seem that they particularly care – they are resigned to having an Islamic republic, they’re resigned that it will not be a model democracy, but it will be done and it will be a step that they can point to and say, well, you know, now we’ve reached this milestone and there’s one more milestone on the road to getting our troops home. Whether it actually accomplishes any of that, I can’t tell you, I don’t have a crystal ball.
GWEN IFILL: Well, it will be done perhaps at some point, but not today. Chris Allbritton, thank you so much.
CHRIS ALLBRITTON: You’re very welcome.