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[casi] The Sabotage of Democracy

      The Sabotage of Democracy

      By Reuel Marc Gerecht
      Posted: Friday, November 14, 2003


      New York Times
      Publication Date: November 14, 2003

      The hastily called conference at the White House involving America's
top man in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer, clearly revealed that the Bush
administration knows its program in Iraq is failing. The "Iraqification" of
the security forces has not dimmed the rate or deadliness of attacks against
coalition troops; the Iraqi Governing Council has willfully stalled the
process of drafting a new constitution; a new American intelligence report
leaked to the press indicates that Iraqis are increasingly angry with the
American presence.

      The administration is now going to grant the Governing Council's wish:
it will become more or less an autonomous provisional government. In return,
the council has promised to set a timetable for drafting a constitution and
holding democratic national elections (although, oddly, the question of
which will come first remains up in the air). This new approach, the White
House hopes, will make Iraqis feel more responsible for their own fate, and
thus more willing to take over security from coalition forces. In sum, the
administration that waged a war for democracy now wants an exit strategy
that is not at all dependent upon Iraq's democratic progress.

      In fact, the administration's efforts to improve internal security and
midwife democracy are now seriously at odds. Where once American officials
were sensitive to the need to have political reconstruction precede the
re-establishment of a small Iraqi army, they are now rushing Iraqis into
uniform, showing no concern about the long history of overgrown security and
military forces running roughshod over the country's parliaments and civil

      Worse, the administration remains convinced that the democratic
participation of the Iraqi people in a constitutional assembly would be
counterproductive. Senior officials in Washington and in the Coalition
Provisional Authority have warned that a new constitution should be the
product of a small unelected committee. Introducing democracy now, they
feel, would undermine the focus of the Coalition Authority and the Governing
Council, whose members would naturally be consumed by elections and
constitutional deliberations. Quick democracy might also empower illiberal,
anti-American forces among the Shiites--who, given their majority status in
the population, could possibly dominate a constitutional convention.

      Such fears may seem logical, but they are totally misguided. America's
failure to embrace a democratically elected assembly is far more likely to
derail a transition to responsible self-government than would the
predictable messiness that comes with an elected body. And if Washington
doesn't soon endorse the idea of an elected constitutional assembly, its
counterterrorist and counterinsurgency efforts have little chance of

      It shouldn't be hard to see why. With an increasing number of ordinary
Iraqis dying at the hands of terrorists and American troops, the United
States cannot argue successfully that the Iraqi people don't have the right
to select their representatives to write their most fundamental laws.
Radicals, who will surely point out this moral discrepancy, will start
looking like moderates to many people.

      Most important, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, far and away the
most respected person in Iraq, has issued a legal judgment that
unequivocally rejects an unelected constitutional assembly. "The occupying
forces do not have in any way the legal competence to select members of a
constitutional assembly," he wrote, insisting it should happen only "through
the means of an open election."

      Some in the administration are now advising that the coalition
sidestep the grand ayatollah by creating a "hybrid" assembly that would
include both elected and non-elected members. And they would want even the
"elected" participants to receive their mandates from local and regional
associations of city and tribal elders, not from a general election. These
American officials feel this this would guarantee a more liberal and
expeditious outcome to constitutional deliberations. To some extent this is
reasonable: the proponents are sympathetic to Iraq's many minority groups
and the exile political organizations, which would lose influence in a
Shiite-dominated, popularly elected convention.

      Still, a hybrid assembly is likely to get the Bush administration, and
the provisional Iraqi government, into even greater trouble. No matter how
it is put together, a convention is bound to be a raucous affair, as Iraqis
of all religions and backgrounds hammer out a new national identity. Elected
members would undoubtedly clash with unelected ones, but those chosen by a
vote--even a restricted one--would have far greater legitimacy than those
hand-picked by the authority and governing council. An assembly so divided
could easily be overcome with paralysis. And many good ideas--for example,
constitutional protections for minority rights--could get shunted aside if
they were closely associated with the unelected representatives.

      In addition, this plan seems to be based on the idea that Grand
Ayatollah Sistani, who is known for his strong aversion to mixing politics
and faith, will not rally the faithful if his wishes are ignored. However,
his past actions may not be a guide to the future. It is worth noting that
his juridical opinion on the constitutional assembly made no allusion
whatsoever to Holy Law. Rather, it was explicitly secular--he considers the
question to be of paramount importance to the nation rather than simply
another textual analysis of divine law and tradition. Iraqis familiar with
Grand Ayatollah Sistani's temperament and pronouncements are already
referring to the statement as a hukm, which is a peremptory ruling not to be
trifled with.

      Until now, the Coalition Authority has been very wise to avoid a
collision with senior Iraqi clerics. In fact, the success it has had in
corralling radical Shiite forces loyal to the young cleric Moktada al-Sadr
have come in large part because Grand Ayatollah Sistani and the traditional
clergy have calmed the Shiite masses and, behind the scenes, encouraged them
to provide intelligence and aid to the Americans. Angering the grand
ayatollah over the makeup of the constitutional assembly doesn't seem worth
the risk; if only a small number of Shiites become violently hostile to
coalition forces, the United States' presence in the country will quickly
become untenable.

      The Iraqi Governing Council, as an unelected body, does not have the
popular appeal or cohesion to propel self-government where it needs to go.
Neither it nor its successor--if the Bush administration is so unwise to
replace one unelected body with another--is going to rally the citizenry to
take on the Sunni insurgents. There may well be no short-term political
solution to the guerrilla and terrorist strikes within the Arab Sunni
triangle. But the hurried "Iraqification" of the country's security services
makes no sense unless Iraqi democracy is pushed forward at least as quickly.

      Grand Ayatollah Sistani has warned the United States that the
democratic process must begin in earnest in Iraq or else American troops
will be viewed as occupiers. Unfortunately, its new plans indicate that the
White House does not seem to be listening.

      Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, is a
resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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