Iraq: Constitution raises hopes

As deputies struggle to reach agreement over the constitution, Iraqis are generally optimistic about the impact it will have.

By Ali Marzook in Baghdad (ICR No. 132, 12-Jul-05)

Disputes have plagued the drafting of the new constitution, but many here say they are hopeful that the final document will make Iraq a more stable and secure county.

The parliament elected during the January 30 elections considers the drafting of a constitution to be one of its primary duties. It will be put to the Iraqi people in a referendum in October.

But there have been many obstacles to completing the document - most recently, a disagreement over the number of Sunnis who should be appointed to a parliamentary drafting committee.

The committee has now been expanded to include 15 Sunnis, as well as 10 others who will act as advisers.

It is also dealing with disputes over federalism, the status of ethnically-mixed Kirkuk and the role of Islam in government. Some of the Sunnis on the committee object to Iraq being established as a federal nation, since they claim it would divide the country.

The problems encountered by legislators has led to speculation over whether the deadline for drafting the constitution - August 15 - will be achieved.

Still, Iraqis are generally hopeful that the constitution will bring political progress.

"The constitution will have good results -- it is a step towards building democracy," said Khalid al-Azzawi, a 53-year-old researcher.

Others believe it will improve the security situation, which has recently deteriorated, with 43 fatalities across the country on July 10 alone.

"The constitution will make things better and Iraq will be more stable and secure," said Osama Abbas, 28, an arts school graduate.

Ihab Sabry, a 25-year-old taxi driver, said he now lives in fear because of the violence in the city. "I hope once we apply the constitution, it will make things less tense," he said.

As politicians discuss the content of the constitution, ordinary Iraqis have also been expressing their views, especially on two of the most contentious issues -- federalism and the degree to which Islam should influence legislation.

Two Baghadad residents IWPR spoke to reflected widely held views on these issues.

"Federalism serves the unity of Iraq if it is not based on national or ethnical bases," said Ammar al-Mishadani, 35, a pediatrician. "And Islam should not be the unique source of legislation because we have many other religions."

Yaser Kareem, a 17-year-old student, agrees. "Federalism is very important for Iraq and I do prefer it," he said. "Islam should be one of many sources of legislation in Iraq."

Some Iraqis are concerned with Sunni participation in the writing of the constitution, suspecting that they will cause problems if they do not get what they want.

"I think Sunnis will set the constitution up for failure if their requests are not fulfilled," said Mustafa Ali, 35, a storekeeper. "They have always been hungry for power."

But just as many people believe that it's important for all sections of Iraqi society to be involved in constitutional negotiations.

But Ahmed Kasim, 38, a computer science graduate, said, "Let the constitution represent even those who carry weapons to oppose the occupation."

Ultimately, though, a good number IWPR spoke to said they didn't really care who was involved in writing the constitution so long as the rights of citizens and the stability of the country was secured.

Ali Marzook is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.