The Journal Editorial Report | August 26, 2005 | PBS
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Lead Story
August 26, 2005

An Iraqi woman
An Iraqi woman walks next to posters promoting women's rights in the new constitution, in the southern city of Basra, August 22, 2005. (AP/Nabil Al-Jurani)

Another contentious issue in the draft constitution is the role of Islam. The draft constitution establishes Islam as a main source for legislation, although carefully not the main source. It also says that no law may contradict the basic beliefs of Islam, and calls for the appointment of judges expert in Islamic law to preside on the Supreme Federal Court.




Secular critics argue these judges could strike down any law in conflict with Islamic faith, turning Iraq effectively into an Islamic theocracy. Defenders of the draft point out that the constitution also states that no law may contradict democratic standards.

Zalmay Khalilzad, US Ambassador to Iraq, called it "a synthesis between Islamic traditions of the country with the universal principles of democracy and human rights."

GIGOT: We have heard the accusation this week that United States troops deposed Saddam Hussein only to pave the way, in the end, for an Iranian-style Shiite theocracy. How real is that possibility?

POLLOCK: That is utterly preposterous, and I do not think that anyone who actually took a look at the draft of this constitution could arrive at that. The strongest language in favor of Islam is that Islam will be a, not the, basic source of legislation. Who is going to interpret that anyway? It is going to be the elected representative. Who are the elected representatives going to be? I can guarantee you it is not going to be a majority of turbaned ayatollahs. The majority of Iraqis clearly do not want that. It is not going to happen.

GIGOT: Reuel, you have been a student of the grand Ayatollah Sistani, and his brand of Shiite theology. You have argued that his brand of political theology, if you will, is not the same as that of the clerics in Qom or Tehran. Elaborate on that.
religion
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GERECHT: It is very much different. I would say it is 180 degrees opposite. If you go back and you look at his first major public statement, which was a fatwa issued on June 28, 2003, he comes down clearly in favor of democracy, one man one vote. He gives democracy almost a canonical authority. This is revolutionary in Shiite history. He also has, I think, gone out of his way to tell people that he does not want in any way, shape, or form, what they have in Iran velayate faqih, that is the rule of this theological juris consul.

Clerics are going to have some role inside of Iraqi society. I would argue that they should have some role. You want traditional clerics, both Shiite and Sunni, to be involved in the political process, that is to support democracy. But I don't think you will find much approval at all in the Shiite community, and I would say also in the Sunni community, for cleric actually ruling. Democracy will be what is the final arbiter of political passion.

GIGOT: Of course, the Kurds are secular Islamists, in a sense, so they are a restraining influence on any theological impulses.

POLLOCK: Largely so, as are the majority of Shiites largely secular people. These terms that we use are very rough. They are useful to a certain extent, but most Iraqis do not think of themselves as religious people first.

GIGOT: I want to ask you about the perception about this constitution on the part of some of the secular Iraqis. Ahmed Chalabi, who is the deputy prime minister and secular Shiite himself, seems mostly approving, whereas lyad Allawi, who is the former Prime Minister under the interim constitution before the elections, he says this is a threat and a danger. What explains that difference?

POLLOCK: It is not surprising that we find Chalabi approving. He has been a driving force behind the constitution and he was the one that organized the Shiite list that won the last election, despite all the assurances we had from the State Department and the C.I.A. that he had no support in Iraq. He has emerged as a major player there, he has had a major role in shaping this constitution. Allawi, who was our pick for interim leader in Iraq, was roundly rejected at the election, and it is not surprising now, as an opposition leader, he does not like the direction the government is headed.

GIGOT: So Allawi is playing the role of something of an opposition leader.

GERECHT: I think it is important to remember that Allawi's prized organization, the Iraqi National Accord, has essentially Sunni roots. It has been a Sunni Baathist organization; it has a very, very weak following amongst Shiites. I don't want to cast an aspersion. But I suspect that it has been a long time since Mr. Allawi has been in a mosque, at least to pray. Chalabi is probably somewhat more familiar with that and therefore he fears it less.

GIGOT: Dan, the role of Islam in this constitution. You have to compare it, I think, to the role of Islam in other constitutions in other nations. There were similar Islamic elements in the Afghan charter, which was signed to large approval last year. Then you have the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, among others. Is this a step forward, as you look and compare them to all those other constitutions?

HENNINGER: I would say it is clearly a step forward. It is reflected, as Rob suggested, in the language of the drafted constitution. The place of democracy and individual rights is very clearly stated. One has to keep in mind that Iraq is a work in progress, and it is a very interesting country. There has always been a large secular presence in Iraq, a middle class. It is not as monolithic religiously as a country like Afghanistan. You have a lot of forces in play inside Iraq, some of them undoubtedly pushing for a greater separation of church and state. They will simply have to work out these differences with the proponents of Islamic law.

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The debate about the role of Islam is related to another controversial area -- what the draft constitution has to say about democratic rights and freedoms, and especially the rights of women.

The draft constitution says, "All citizens are equal before the law," but many laws will be administered by religious courts. By Islamic tenants, women are not equal to men in many matters, such as divorce, marriage, child custody, and inheritance.

The draft guarantees that no less than 25 percent of the seats in the council deputy will go to women, but that provision has been assigned to a part of the document that is considered transitional, and critics worry it may not survive. Only 45 percent of Iraqi women are literate, compared to 71 percent of Iraqi men. Women also sought mandatory education through middle school, but what they got is mandatory education only through elementary school.

GIGOT: Reuel, you have written that, "Americans of a feminist disposition should realize that equal rights between the sexes is not a pre-condition for the growth of democracy." Elaborate on that for us?

GERECHT: Historically, it should be easy to see that in the West. If it were a precondition, then western democracy certainly would not have started -- would not have succeeded -- because we did not give women the right to vote until 1920. It is important to remember in Iraq you are not going to have democracy take root and have the traditional communities, the Shiite and the Sunni communities, support it. There is definitely a greater Islamic identity in those communities.

However, I have heard no one in Iraq say that women should not have the right to vote. I think people have to realize is what you want is to begin a public debate. You want the democratic process to move forward. Then, later then can start having these debates about where the red lines are, where in fact women's rights begin. It is a moving line, but the most important thing is to get the traditional communities on board so they support the democratic process, and then let the great debates begin.

GIGOT: Of course, women played a very prominent role in the elections in January, turning out in really big numbers. Was that a one-time event, they are likely to say, "From now on, we won't vote," or "We won't participate?"

GERECHT: No, I suspect you will see it over and over and over again, and I suspect many of those women who actually turned out to vote are not necessarily incredibly hostile to the notion of having Islamic law have some part to play in family law.

GIGOT: Let's broaden this out a little bit. Rob, I want to talk about your trip a little bit, and get your perspective on the securities situation. Because you were there, you met General David Petraeus, who was in charge of training the Iraqi security forces -- which is crucial, obviously, if we're going to leave -- give a much smaller American presence. What's your sense of the progress on that front?

POLLOCK: My sense is that while Baghdad does not feel a lot safer today than it did the last time I was there about a year ago. My sense is that we are about to hit a critical mass. One reason I believe this is you see a lot more Iraqi security forces on the street than you did a year ago, a lot more. And a smaller American footprint. This is a good thing. Why? Because this war is not any longer primarily about fire power, it is about policing and intelligence. It is about things that only the Iraqis themselves can do really well. I have a feeling we are about to get there.

Another important thing to remember is that the training of security forces that General Petraeus has done is only finally starting to show its results. This idea put forward by Senator Biden and others that we have only a handful of Iraqi battalions that are capable of operating just simply is not correct. There are more than three dozen battalions which operate in the lead in Iraq at the moment.

GIGOT: Are there Iraqi units that have fought and have the experience, the battle-hard leadership, that allows them to be able to go on their own without American backing, to counter the insurgencey?

POLLOCK: Absolutely. I was told by American commanders that the Iraqi special ops and commander battalions are probably at this point the best special forces in the world outside of ours, probably because have the most experience.

GIGOT: But let us stipulate -- Baghdad in particular is very dangerous.

POLLOCK: It is absolutely a dangerous place, but the Iraqis are starting to make more decisions. I spent a day at the Ministry of Defense in Iraq. You can see that that is now a growing concern. The Iraqis are starting to run their own show. The minister of defense Saadoun al-Dulaimi represents a very large tribe from the Anbar province, a Sunni tribe. He is an honest to goodness Sunni leader, but he is not a Baathist, he's not with the bad guys. Everyone credits him with doing a very good job. I think there are lots of reasons to be optimistic. But in the fairly near term, there is going to be a sort of critical mass among Iraqi forces, and we are going to see improvements.

GIGOT: Big picture here, since we toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, looking at all the progress and the set-backs since then, and now this debate over the constitution, do we still have the prospect of emerging at the end of the day here with a stable, unified, and presumably free Iraq?

GERECHT: I think that as long as the Shia community, the Shia center holds, then you've got an ongoing political process. What has been striking in Iraq, on both the Shiite side and the Kurdish side, is the lack of revenge killing. You had it, but given the barbarism that existed under Saddam Hussein's rule, given how many tens of thousands of people were slaughtered in the most horrific fashion, it is striking to see how little intercommunal violence there has been.

This should give everybody hope. If you look abroad, if you look in the Middle East, you see the way this has galvanized the democratic debate. People tend to ignore this. It is astonishing.

HENNINGER: I would like to add a footnote to that. The violence that has seen by the outside world is defined in two ways: suicide bombers who blow up Iraqis, and roadside bombs that blow up American soldiers. Subtract those two elements, and it actually looks like a fairly normal place. That violence is aimed at stopping this constitutional process, and I think thwarting the October referendum. To the extent they fail, I think Iraq has the change of succeeding.

GIGOT: And it is aimed at American political opinion and popular opinion, to try to reduce our resolve here.

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