By Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie
- Iraqi politics should be defined by the principle of democratic regionalism
- Three-way divide in Iraqi society must be recognized and overcome through constitutional and institutional mechanisms
- Create five large regions that reflect the broad historic and ethnic areas of Iraq
- Recognize Kurdistan as a society with a unique status
- Devolve wide powers to regional authorities with elected parliaments and cabinets led by a Prime Minister
- Create a two house federal structure with an upper house drawn from the regions( a per the US Senate) and a lower house based on regional constituencies
- Develop constitutional and other safeguard, expressed through the federal upper house to block legislation through a sixty percent voting majority requirement
- Allow regions direct access to resources through mandated revenue-sharing measures with the federal government
- Allow regions with resources an additional revenue-generating capabilities by a limited tax on oil resources
- A process has been developed to utilize the principles of democratic regionalism as the bases of a sequence of events that would lead to the establishment of an elected transitional assembly.
The present conundrum in Iraq is caused by two critical factors. Firstly, the incompatibility of the political objectives of Iraqs constituent communities within the framework of the unitary, centralized state; and secondly, the presence of a powerful extraneous force (the US/Coalition) that has its own objectives which need to be fitted within the new political dispensation for Iraq.
The absence of significant cross-national and cross-ethnic political consensus, and the absence of a true national leadership that an convincingly transmit its vision to the people further exacerbates the problem
Elements of the Conundrum
The elements of the conundrum, briefly stated, are as follows:
The Shia majority sees its political future in three simple propositions;
- Power should be exercised through a political majority
- Control over the institutions and instruments of power should reflect the above
- Reversal of institutional biases and discrimination.
This has been crystallized in the present demand for elections where its majority status can be reflected in the constitutional and institutional structures for the new state.
The Kurds see their political future bound in terms of their assertion of linguistic, political, cultural and financial/resource rights through direct administrative and political control over a large swathe of territory that they define as Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Sunni Arab community is driven by two different forces: a varying resistance to the realities of their loss of power which translates into a loss pf control over the country by the dissolution of the army and security services, the Baath Party and the profound make-over of the apparatus of the state. The second force is the fear of Shiite revanchism expressed through a tyranny of the majority and a policy of reverse discrimination.
Inadequacy of present approaches
The present approach to resolving these issues is deeply flawed. It is based on a pluralistic democratic vision that is admirable in content, but entirely unsuited as a means to tackle the three-way divide in Iraq. It is defined through a process that basically ignores these underlying issues and expects that a consensus will emerge simply by enacting a liberal and tolerant constitutional and legal order. It must become clear by now that reconciling these profoundly conflicting views of the nature and role of the Iraqi state cannot be accomplished either justly or easily. Violence and terror has been the glue that had kept Iraq as a centralized state. But the War and its aftermath has flung the windows open on the sealed interior of Iraqi political life. However, Iraqis have been unable to generate broadly acceptable political alternatives and the answer must lie partly in the mutually exclusivist visions for the future of Iraq. Democracy without the underlay of tolerance will quickly lead to a tyranny of the majority (in the view of most of the Arab Sunnis). Agreements that avoid or circumvent decision-making through the ballot box are only code words for denying the Shia access to power. Inadequate definition of federalism keeps the Kurds guessing at the true intentions of the new Iraqi state. Talk of Islamism frightens the secularists and the minority- especially- Christian groups. The list is endless.
Elements of a solution
Democracy, pluralism and other concepts of governance will not take root unless we recognize the fears and aspirations of Iraqs communities and reflect them in the reconstruction of the Iraqi state. It is our contention that the resolution of the critical three-way divide in Iraq can only be achieved through a system that incorporates three main elements: regional federalism; democracy; strong constitutional safeguards with a bill or rights. Federalism must therefore be twinned to democracy and a clear devolution of power to large regional units if Iraq is to avoid dismemberment or civil strife. It is in the manifest interest of all Iraqs communities to call for the dismantling of the centralized Iraqi state and to devolve power to regional units that reflect the ethnic and cultural make-up of the population. A prime condition for the successful devolution of power is that the balance should be tipped decisively to the regions; and that only through a new political compact between Iraqs main communities will a new Iraq state be born. The central institutions must earn their legitimacy from the power that the main communities are prepared to give to the center; and not the other way around. A period during which both the main disadvantaged communities the Shia and the Kurds rediscover political control over their destinies must be combined with a federalism that will safeguard the Arab Sunni community from a tyranny of the majority. A regional administrative and political structure for Iraq can allow for the devolution of religious, cultural and educational policies more suited to the requirements of the population than a distorted and one-dimensional centralism. A regional framework for conducting economic policy will also fit more easily with traditional and natural trade patterns and markets. The new Iraqi identity will be forged over time as a result of the peaceful, mutually respectful and co-operative participation of the countrys communities; and not by fear, terror and violence as has been done in the disastrous experience of our past.
Designing a new regional order
The exact form in which Iraq will be re-constructed as a federal entity can of course vary. There are numerous examples of successful models of highly decentralized and multi-ethnic states as well as, examples of how not to create federal systems. At a minimum, federalism in Iraq should meet a number of criteria; including the creation of large regional units .We would suggest five:
- One built around Kurdistan, basically amalgamating the two Kurdish territories, to be called the Kurdistan Province.
- One including Mosul and the upper Tigris and Euphrates valleys, to be called the Mosul Province
- One built around Karbala/ Hilla/ Najaf to be called the Kufa Province;
- A Southern region around Basra/Nassiriya, to be called the Basra province
- One built around Greater Baghdad, which may include part of Diyala Governorate, to be called the Baghdad Province
The Kurdish region will be given a special constitutional status as a recognized society and culture with a unique identity (similar to the Canadian definition of the Province of Quebec).
Federalism will imply the devolution of nearly all domestic powers to the regional units to be funded out of a percentage of oil revenues (say up to 65%) distributed directly to the regions on the basis of population. In addition, the regional units would have the power to tax a further 5% of the revenues from oilfields that are in their own territory. The federal government will be responsible only for inter-regional affairs, foreign policy, defense, money and banking. Regional parliaments and executive authorities in the form of regional governments led by prime ministers will govern the various regions; while a federal parliament and an upper house will supervise the functioning of the federal level. The upper house of the federal government would be based on the regions where the upper house would have the power of veto over legislation by a majority of 60% of the vote. This, in practice, would require a degree of consensual politics that would allow for the creation of coalitions and strengthening the inter-play between regions .. Democracy, in the sense of universal suffrage to elect representatives to regional and federal institutions, will be the agreed mechanism for reflecting the popular will.
The basic strategic objective of developing a political order based on the principles of democratic regionalism can only be met if the process commences with a sequence of events that leads to the establishment of a political settlement between Iraqs groups. Without such a political settlement as the basis of a subsequent constitutional arrangement, it is unlikely that an orderly electoral process can be initiated without serious reservations on the part of one or more of Iraqs constituent groups. The process must aim at reaching a broad political consensus on the make-up of the Iraqi state so that this consensus would form the backdrop to an election. The process also has to be developed in stages with increasing legitimacy being provided at each step along the way in a rolling manner. A five step flow of events is outlined below:
The Governing Council (GC) discusses, refines and approves the principles of a political settlement. We would suggest that a working document for this settlement would be the outline paper on democratic regionalism.
This could take place by March 15, 2004.
The GC plus the CPA plus the UN would call for a large national convention (a National Caucus) to discuss, refine and approve a political settlement document that would be based on the GCs political settlement document. The invitees would number at least 500-1,000 people drawn from every conceivable sector of Iraqi public life and would exclude only hard core Baathists and violent/terrorist elements. It would roughly match the ethnic/ sectarian/ national/ religious/ ideological divides in the country. Such a National Caucus could be closeted in the conference centre for a week and would be mandated to approve the political settlement document.
This could take place by May 15, 2004.
The National Caucus would call for nation-wide elections to elect a Transitional Assembly. The call for elections would be confirmed by the GC, the CPA and the UN. It would also form an electoral commission to organize the elections with the help of the UN. The elections would be for a full Transitional Assembly (TA) and not a referendum on the Principles. In practice though, candidates for the TA would be mainly drawn from the participants in the National Caucus and it would be expected (mandated?) that such candidates would support the translation of the Principles document into the basic law for the interim period.
The call for elections would be governed by the agreement with the UN as to the earliest practical date.
Elections for a Transitional Assembly. If the electoral process results in a large victory for the National Caucus participants or their allies- as would be expected- then the next step would be to formulate the basic law for the transition period. The basic law would then follow closely the main features of the Principles document that was approved by the National Caucus.
Enactment of a Basic Law for the transitional period and laying out the steps leading to an elected constitutional convention.
The process outlined above would have a number of advantages:
1. It would oblige Iraqis to articulate their perceptions of the future construct for Iraq before an election is held.
2. The large and broad participation in the national caucus would give a large degree of legitimacy to the final agreement reached
3. Holding an election where most of the candidates and likely victors would be drawn from signatories to the Principles document would ensure that the basic law for the transition period would be close to the terms of the Principles document.
4. Subjecting the process to an election would mollify all criticisms as to the validity of the transitional authority.
5. It would combine elements of the proposed provincial caucus system and the variants to it that have been proposed.
The risks of this process would be:
1. That the GC and/or the National Caucus would not be able to agree to a Principles document that would meet most or all of the demands of Iraqs constituent groups. If this does indeed take place then the process would be truncated at a critical juncture. We believe that the looming crisis that would result would be so great that it is unlikely that such an eventuality would be allowed to arise.
2. That the Transitional assembly would not have a large majority that would reflect the views of the Principles signatories. We believe that this risk would be slight if the national caucus participants are drawn from broad and representative groups in ways that truly reflect the current make-up of the country.