A Good Foundation for the Nation

The new interim constitution agreed by Iraqi politicians on Monday calls for a federal state that guarantees human rights. It's a very respectable result. Commentary by Peter Philipp

It's ironic that during discussions of a provisional constitution, the proponents of a modern and progressive Iraq were forced to defend things that deposed dictator Saddam Hussein introduced and turned into fixed parts of everyday life, such as the wide-reaching separation of church and state and women's equality.

Departing from such measures would be a giant step backwards, despite the fact that the demise of Saddam's regime is nothing to bemoan. But during discussions of a new constitution, the parties were close to rolling back the wheel of history, particularly if the religious fanatics had managed to make Sharia, Islamic law, the basis of the new Iraq.

Had that happened, a new Iraq would have been just a dream. As much as Shi'ite leaders stress that they don't want an "Islamic republic" like Iran, a religiously-tinged or even religiously-defined constitution would have brought upon Iraq something similar to the recent parliamentary elections in Iran. A state in which secular law is dependent on religious law is incapable of action and certainly cannot become a true democracy - at least as long as "divine law" is interpreted by self-proclaimed dogmatists.

Foundation for future state a success story

But even after agreement on a new constitution, Iraq remains far from realizing the ideal of a true democracy. Still, not even a year has passed since the war against Saddam Hussein's regime started, and any talk of pacification or even of "normalization" in the country is premature. It's a success story that the Iraqis have at least managed to establish the foundations for a future state.

After World War II, Germany needed four years to pass its Basic Law, durable legislation and not - as in Iraq now - just a temporary solution. In Germany, however, there were more experts at the time who could compose such a law. In Iraq, this deficiency was superseded by U.S. pressure and Washington's threat to reject radical stipulations and passages.

Freedom of speech, press and equal rights for women

The result is quite respectable. Iraq's integrity is protected. Religion is included, but only as "one" of the state's foundations, without being accorded supremacy. And civil rights, including freedom of speech, press freedom and equal rights for women, are laid down.

We will see what the Iraqis make of it and whether they start to dilute it the next time they have the opportunity - or whether they strengthen and expand it. Then, perhaps, a sign of democracy and freedom could issue through the region after all, emanating from Iraq.

Peter Philipp


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