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The Sabotage of Democracy By Reuel Marc Gerecht Posted: Friday, November 14, 2003 ARTICLES 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 traditions. 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 improving. 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. [ spacer.gif of type image/gif removed by lists.casi.org.uk - attachments are not permitted on the CASI lists ] _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk