Talisman Gate

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Patronizing the Enemy

Copyright 2005 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC
All Rights Reserved
The New York Sun

August 30, 2005 Tuesday


LENGTH: 1180 words

HEADLINE: Patronizing the Enemy

BYLINE: Nibras Kazimi


America gambled away irreplaceable political capital in the last two weeks by betting on a series of lame horses. In a bid to counter growing antipathy toward the Iraq project back in America, the Bush administration really stumbled this time.

And yet it was simply a question of giving the whole matter some more time. America should have been more patient with its investment in Iraq before cashing in. Instead, driven by irresponsible rhetoric and partisan account-settling in an increasingly shrill Washington, the administration leapt into a hasty and ill-advised venture, thus exposing a weakness to the anti-democratic forces at play in Iraq - the Islamists and the Baathists. America hedged all its bets on its sworn enemies in a Faustian bargain to get the constitution written, signed, and delivered.

A bogged-down constitutional process would have been the badge of shame for Baghdad's politicians, who were elected to this purpose, not Washington's. Instead, the Islamists and the Baathists toyed with brinkmanship in order to nibble away at American objections to their agendas.

I am voting no on referendum day. I refuse a constitutional text that contradicts itself in its opening clause, stating that no law can be promulgated contravening the fundamental judgments of Islam and ditto should it contravene the principles of democracy.

That just ain't gonna work. Serious and angst-ridden Muslim thinkers have been trying to reconcile Islamic jurisprudence and democratic values for the last 150 years, and they have failed. What makes anyone think that a politicized constitutional court would be able to find sober and enlightened breakthroughs in reforming Islam for the 21st century?

The first clause of the Iraqi constitution strikes a wedge into the basic unit of Iraqi society: the family. Say a man and a woman seek to divorce. The man wants the whole matter adjudicated through the eighth century Maleki Sunni interpretation of Islamic Shariah, while the lady feels she'll do better under the secular 1959 Civil Law that is on the books. The constitution says that both this man and woman have equal rights, but clearly the constitutional court will have to apply a verdict that makes one less equal than the other. With religious demagogues weighing in while their adjunct militias rove the streets, most judges on the panel would opt for self-preservation. Thus, I'm guessing the lady is going to lose.

Last week, President Bush made a phone call to Shia leader Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim - head of the largest parliamentary block - beseeching him to save the day and find consensus. Mr. Hakim did not deliver but the phone call increased his standing: He demonstrated that he is the "go to" guy for the high and mighty Americans. By the way, Hakim is the leader of the not-so-subtle Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose militias are busily working to turn the nine southern provinces he seeks to confederate into a mini-Islamist state. The phone call brought him nearer to being the guy in charge of his own Shariah fiefdom. After all, the Americans with 150,000 troops don't seem to mind. Iran's mullahs, the longtime patrons of Mr. Hakim, must have been howling with laughter at the irony that day.

And last Thursday, at a meeting attended by top American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, British officials, and leading Iraqi government figures, a member of the Sunni negotiating team said something incredibly audacious: Those who kill Americans deserve to be regaled in the constitutional preamble. That Sunni, Mahmoud al-Mashadani, felt that too much was being made of the Saddam-era mass graves that he dismissed as "five farmers in the marshes who were plowed under," and that the true heroes are the insurgents fighting the occupation. The Americans and the British said nothing, and the only person who challenged him was the president of the Kurdish regional government, Masoud Barzani, who himself had lost a half dozen siblings to Saddam's gallows while another 8,000 male members of his tribe had gone "missing." Mr. Barzani told him that it was the Americans who liberated the Iraqi people from the likes of Mr. Mashadani.

How did Mr. Mashadani come to speak on behalf of Iraq's Sunnis? He certainly was not elected to such a post. He was picked by the self-same Americans whose killers he was gleefully cheering on.

The most visible and audible Sunni on the constitutional talks is a certain man by the name of Saleh al-Mutlak, a favorite of the Western press corps. He too was not elected to any post and had spent most of his adult life in the service of Saddam's regime, including managing the agricultural estates of Saddam's wife and his murderous son, Uday.

Men like Mr. Mutlak and Mr. Mashadani were negotiating on behalf of the Baathists, not the Sunnis. On Saturday night, the official Iraqi TV network aired a spirited debate whereby the secular politician Mithal al-Alusi, who happens to be a Sunni, made this point and trounced yet a third member of the negotiating team, Kamal Hamdoun, who had openly stated his pride in his Baathist past.

Some may argue that bringing on the Baathists is a political solution to the murderous insurgency. But how come these Baathists did not show good faith by declaring a cease fire and halting terrorist activities while negotiations were ongoing?

The Baathists, like the Islamists, have demonstrated to the Iraqi people that they are the only game in town by virtue of being taken seriously by the Americans. The Baathists were thus rehabilitated after having lost the war that put an end to their 30 years of tyranny, while the Islamists shed the stigma of a close association with Iran's tyrants. Iraq's democrats were marginalized and relegated to the sideline benches of the debate. The Iraqi constitution, far from being a blueprint for democracy, has been rendered by American haste into a turf war between totalitarian agendas.

Both the Baathists and the Islamists have sure-footed their foothold on the stage of Iraqi politics. Now they can bide their time as they watch an exhausted America scramble to announce the completion of the Iraq project according to a timetable being set by a distraught Cindy Sheehan. And as the American soldiers who have braved this difficult task are withdrawn, the counter-revolution against democracy will begin.

Democracy is hard as it is, but the challenge is even greater with strong anti-democratic internal and external forces being marshaled to thwart it. Many regional dictatorships and radical groups have a stake in killing liberty, and they have been pulling all the brakes to bring about this outcome. The constitutional process was hijacked by such darkness, while America's and freedom's friends, like Mr. Alusi, were left out of the battle.

Maybe a secular rejection of this flawed constitution by popular referendum would set the clock back and bring us back to square one. A new General Assembly would be voted in and a new debate on Iraq's future would begin; hopefully this time with less American patronage of the Islamists and Baathists.