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April 26, 2003
Column #1,130

Iraq Needs a Constitutional Convention

     On Easter, Iraq's Catholic bishop expressed a profound fear that 700,000 Catholics would be at great risk if a new Iraq is dominated by Muslims who want an Islamic theocracy like Iran's. At an Evangelical Protestant Church in Baghdad, a widowed parishioner prepared to leave Iraq. 

     "It's going to be like Iran," he warned. "Even Christians will have to wear head scarves. There will be no alcohol. No dancing. All Christians are afraid now."

     A million fervent Shiite Muslims gathered in Karbala around the mosque of Hussein, the grandson of Muhammad who was martyred 1,300 years ago. After a generation when such demonstrations were prohibited by Saddam Hussein, Shiites exulted in the religious freedom granted by the American military. Hundreds performed long-banned rituals of self-flagellation, beating themselves with whips to chants. Shiites are moved by a sense of grief over Hussein's death, since his followers did not come to his aid before he was captured and beheaded. in 680.

     Competing factions of Shiite clerics have used the event to mobilize Shiite Muslims, who represent 60 percent of Iraq's population, compared with the Sunni Muslims, who dominated the country's political life, though they are only 37 percent of Iraq's 24 million people. Shiites were repressed by Saddam. One faction of Shiites was clearly mobilized by Iranians.

     Anti-American themes permeated the crowd. "No to Bush, no to Saddam, yes to Islam" screamed one banner. "No to colonialism, no to occupation, yes to independence."

     Is this what American blood was spilled for? To liberate Iraq for militant Muslims who could crush the 3 percent who are Christian?

     The White House announced it was determined to see an "Islamic democracy" established. But what does that mean? Elections? That could simply ratify a Shiite-dominated Islamic state which could care less about Christians and the Kurdish minority in north Iraq.

     It is time for America and the world to learn that elections alone do not make a democracy. Russia has an elected President, but he's a former member of the KGB, the secret police which domineered Russian life. The economy is so corrupt that no American investment is being made there. 

     By contrast, China, with no semblance of elections, has created a free enterprise system that has attracted billions in investments. 

     The United States, after defeating the British in 1781, did not immediately elect President George Washington. There was an interim stage which did not work well. 

     In 1787, a Constitutional Convention thrashed out the compromises between the large and small states resulting in a Senate with each state represented equally and a House based on population. Just as important was the Bill of Rights guaranteeing freedom of speech, religion, press and a sharing of power between Congress, the Administration and the courts.

     However, the Convention's delegates were all experienced elected leaders at state or national levels. While Iraqi leaders have had no comparable experience, there is a need for an Iraqi Constitutional Convention. 

     Self-appointed Iraqi "mayors" and "governors" are popping up in cities amidst the power vacuum. Shiite leaders shout Americans "should leave he Iraqi people to organize themselves."

     Jay Garner, the retired general assigned to oversee Iraq's reconstruction, replies "The majority of people realize we are only going to stay here long enough to start a democratic government for them. We're only going to stay here long enough to get their economy going, to get their oil flowing back to the people and the revenue back to the people. In a very short order you'll see a change in the attitudes."

     Perhaps, but after the economy is working, Iraq needs to learn how to fashion a government which protects minorities while allowing majority rule. I suggest looking at how Gen. MacArthur dealt with the Japanese after the war. He asked a representative group to draft a constitution. But it contained so few changes from the pre-war dictatorship that MacArthur's staff prepared a new draft in six days, which was submitted for modification to the Japanese.

     With minor changes, it went into effect in 1947.

     Instead, the Defense Department has tried to install Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi exile who has not even lived in the country for 35 years. America should not impose a puppet regime. 

     We must be willing to help Iraqis develop a constitutional government, even if Iraqis are unable to do so on their own. Gen. Garner should learn from Gen. MacArthur it may take a firm but knowledgeable hand.

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