Consensus in Iraq, Our Last Best Chance
After ignoring the necessity for so long, Iraq exit strategies are all the rage among neo-cons these days. Now that they’ve been emboldened by some electoral success, it’s also the main topic of discussion for liberals. Like Richard Nixon’s supposed secret plan to end the Viet Nam war in 1968, most are short on details let alone substance. Almost without exception, they call for the gradual withdrawal of American troops contingent on the Iraqis coming to a viable power sharing arrangement. The long awaited report of the Iraqi Study Group is shaping up to be a non-event along the same lines.
It was originally thought by the neo-cons (and presumably by those democrats who went along with them in voting for this ill-conceived war) that democracy would be a natural and logical by-product of the removal of Saddam Hussein. Some of those same neo-cons now say that democracy may not be possible in Iraq; what’s needed is a strongman to re-assert order. Hopefully, the situation has not deteriorated so badly that the U.S. would publicly support a dictator, although it certainly would not be the first time that the U.S compromised principle in exchange for some imagined stability.
A closer look at the main obstacles to peace (and some reasonable facsimile of democracy) may yield a better way forward. First and foremost is the lack of Sunni involvement. The Sunnis have never fully participated in the process because they understandably feel that the Shiites will overwhelm them. Secondly, a small group of fundamentalists, Sunni and Shiite respectively, are against any democratic process at all. Thirdly, the retributive tide of sectarian violence has almost reached the point of no return. And finally, the issue of Kurdish autonomy is something to be considered within Iraqi and its impact on its neighbors in the greater Gulf region.
With so much on the table, one can see the difficulty of attempting to come to an acceptable arrangement. Wouldn’t a better approach be to put in play a power sharing process as opposed to a point in time arrangement? It would have to be somewhat malleable so that the Iraqis could tweak it and call it their own. It would also, necessarily, have to work well with the existing structure of government. At this stage of the game, it’s much too late to go back to square one to write a new constitution. And most importantly of all, it should be flexible enough to evolve as the situation improves. With that in mind I’d like to propose the following steps.
1). Amend the Iraqi Constitution to create a Senate. The key to a process forward may be in our own Senate. No, our Senators themselves are not the solution. They would undoubtedly make things worse. But creating something like the U.S. Senate to function alongside (and more significantly, in some cases above) the Iraqi General Assembly may be just what’s needed. If a Senate were created roughly comprised of nine districts- three in the Shiite South, three in the Sunni triangle, and three in the Kurdish North, with two senators representing each district, no religious or ethnic group could dominate. This would induce the Sunnis to come back to the table in a meaningful way. The Shiites would be assured in knowing that they would still control a majority of the General Assembly. The Iraqi Senate would work alongside the General Assembly for regular laws. As in our own system, a law would have to be passed by both houses by simple majority. With ten senators needed to pass any law, the various groups would be forced to work together.
The current Constitution already has a process for amendments. And happily, it already has a second legislative body that can function like a Senate. The Council of Union was created to examine bills related to regions and provinces. The rest of its powers have been left open to be determined by future laws. It is this body that could be elevated to the status of “Senate”, although we would still call it by its current name the Council of Union. It might also be possible to legally put this in play ahead of the amendment process.
Ideally, the nine Senate Districts will straddle the eighteen provinces. That is, no province should lie entirely within one Senate district. Creating an overlapping meshwork will strengthen the Federal system. It will circumvent the type of provincialism that can be very obstructionist if much less deadly than the sectarian paradigm we have now. It may also eliminate the need for provinces banding together to form regions as is allowed in Chapter 5 of the Constitution. This particular provision lends a level of uncertainty to the situation particularly from the sectarian standpoint liable to cause problems later. More importantly, it allows for a process forward over the long term. Ideally, the Senate Districts will not be perceived to be Sunni, Shiite, or Kurdish forever.
But it is with its executive powers that the Senate would have the most appeal to the present Iraqi situation. All cabinet positions would have to be approved by a super majority, two-thirds + one. Thirteen Senators would be needed to approve each cabinet position. It would work best if, as in our own system, this were the exclusive province of the Senate. But the General assembly already has that constitutional authority so in this regard they would work in tandem. The Senate would also serve directly (and exclusively) as a board of directors of the oil ministry and the defense ministry.
2). Insure that the vote for the Senate is valid. With so much power concentrated in the Senate, it is essential that the validity of the vote be unquestioned. The painted finger simply would not suffice as a means to monitor the vote. All voters for the Senate would have to show two forms of ID. There may be some initial grumblings about elitism but in situations like this, a process that is perceived to be unfair to a particular ethnic or religious group (as opposed to a class) usually causes the greater turmoil. It would also be a happy (and admittedly, not unnoticed) coincidence that those who are voting for the Senate would be less under the direct influence of the fundamentalists. They would tend to identify themselves more as a doctor or an engineer than simply as a Sunni or a Shiite.
3). Create a Marshall Plan for the Social Infrastructure. This is a country that has endured bombings from without and within. But as bad as the physical infrastructure has deteriorated, it is the social infrastructure that is most crucial to a peaceful Iraq. This is by far the greater priority. The trick may be in ostensibly rebuilding the former while actually repairing the latter. We need a Marshall Plan for the social infrastructure.
Ideally, most of the funds would initially come from the U.S. with most of the public credit going to the Iraqi Oil Ministry. Neither the US government nor the Iraqi federal government should manage it. For obvious reasons the US has to start stepping away from the area. Yet the Iraqi federal government still lacks the necessary level of validity.
4). Several autonomous agencies should be created to oversee various projects. Think the Tennessee Valley Authority or The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. They already have a legal means to do this. Part IV of the Iraqi constitution calls for the creation of independent organizations outside of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
The Prime Minister would appoint the directors of each agency but these also would have to be approved by the Senate. The semi-autonomous agencies would also straddle several provinces. Once the agencies are up and running, the funding would gradually be assumed by oil revenues. Article 110 of the Constitution states that oil revenue should be distributed fairly among the country’s regions and provinces but it does not go into specifics. Having the money effectively distributed through work projects managed by the semi-autonomous agencies (as opposed to the sectarian dominated provinces) is a way to pull the country out of the economic depression it is in while avoiding the type of provincialism that tends to derail economic progress.
All skilled workers on any projects, such as engineers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and architects would have to be a card-carrying member of a professional union or guild. By strengthening the hand of the guilds and unions (especially the unions) we’re re-setting the foundation of a professional, civil society while breaking the bonds of tribalism that has re-asserted itself over the last three difficult years. It would also have the effect of further opening up the political process as these workers would have the necessary validation to vote for the future Senate.
Other academic and professional organizations could also be subsidized. It is precisely those types of social networks that short-circuit the rising web of violence. Creating professional organizations or halls that also have a free and subsidized teaching function with some type of certification offered would be a way to involve young people while giving them a sense of meaning apart from the more destructive forces in the country. Something modeled on the former New Deal Civil Conservation Corps might also make sense.
5). Have a high profile group of Sunni and Shiite Clerics from the region stand together with Iraqi Sunni and Shiite religious leaders to specifically condemn certain extreme aspects of the sectarian violence (while staying away from the political). There has been much speculation about involving others in the region, particularly Syria and Iran to address the intense sectarian violence. At this point there certainly needs to be regional participation, but involving individual countries may not be the best avenue to take. In this particular case, it may even be counterproductive. Every country has its own political agenda and the unfortunate fact that the United States is also involved in the mix only complicates matters.
There will be no peace in Iraq without participation from the religious authorities. A group of high profile clerics from the neighboring countries, particularly from Saudi Arabia (to represent the Sunnis), Iran (for the Shiites), and Jordan (as the best case substitute of a neutral buffer) would undoubtedly be more useful. They would have much to gain. More than one observer has said that there is a very real danger that the whole region could be pulled into a Sunni-Shiite War. Perhaps they could help put together and stand with a grand coalition of Iraqi Sunni and Shiite clerics to specifically address the issue. This group should focus solely on certain extreme aspects of the sectarian violence while staying as far from the political as possible.
It’s true that many religious leaders are behind much of the local violence but others have been particularly repulsed by the most recent severe turn of events and methods, which can only be described as barbaric. It is precisely these more severe means and methods of physical engagement that the more moderate Sunni and Shiite religious authorities should stand together to condemn. This is the easiest way to reach and build on a broad consensus in order to pull this situation back from the brink. It should first be stated that attacking a mosque or using a mosque for torture or ritualistic killing is a crime against Islam and humanity. Successive statements could be made specifically condemning the more disturbing manifestations of communal violence such as slow decapitations and execution by power drill. A similar statement should then be made for torture itself. (The U.S. and other countries should be called on the carpet for this as well.) Iraq’s most powerful spiritual leader The Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani could become the best ally on this. The Sunni cleric who stands with him will likely increase in stature in Iraq and the region. Only then, after this vicious circle has been slowed down can the violence in general be addressed.
The Council on American-Islamic relations has had some success with its courageous public statement “Not in the Name of Islam. It seeks to correct distortions of Islam and the Islamic stance on religiously motivated terror. The “Not in the Name of Islam Petition states:
We, the undersigned Muslims, wish to state clearly that those who commit acts of terror, murder and cruelty in the name of Islam are not only destroying innocent lives, but are also betraying the values of the faith they claim to represent. No injustice done to Muslims can ever justify the massacre of innocent people, and no act of terror will ever serve the cause of Islam. We repudiate and dissociate ourselves from any Muslim group or individual who commits such brutal and un-Islamic acts. We refuse to allow our faith to be held hostage by the criminal actions of a tiny minority acting outside the teachings of both the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
As it states in the Quran: 'Oh you who believe, stand up firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even if it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor; for God can best protect both. Do not follow any passion, lest you not be just. And if you distort or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that you do.' (Quran 4:135)
Something along the lines of the “Not in the Name of Islam” Petition should be established with a particular emphasis on the sectarian strife that has manifested itself in Iraq.
We are almost at the point where the situation may dissolve into a total chaos. That will create a humanitarian crisis with possibly hundreds of thousands of additional lives lost, which would undoubtedly spill into the greater region.
Creating a Senate and a Marshall Plan for the socioeconomic infrastructure with major input from the religious authorities in Iraq and the region concerning the social fabric of the country may be just the top down, bottom up, politically self- contained approach that’s needed. It’s possible that this may also be a prototype for other Islamic democratic republics in the region. In Iraq, it may be our last best hope.