Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Kurds and the new Iraqi constitution

If the US can claim any group as "allies" in Iraq, it must be the Kurds. But in the struggle to form a new government (read "government that will work best with international petroleum interests") the Kurds are having a hard time being heard.

US indifference to Kurdish sensibilities could have far reaching consequences. The Kurds are engaged in a struggle with the Shi'ite majority of Iraq's constitution drafting committee over the principles that will guide the new Iraq.

The majority draft would make Iraq a ''federal Islamic republic." Rights of women would be sharply restricted as Islamic law replaces Iraq's relatively progressive civil code on matters of inheritance, divorce, and child custody. The document is anti-Jewish, denying Iraqi Jews rights granted other Iraqis. The Shi'ite majority is even proposing to incorporate the ''marjah" -- Iraq's leading Shi'ite cleric -- into the constitution, a step that could give the Ayatollah Sistani powers similar to those Khomeini exercised in the first decade of Iran's Islamic Republic. [ed. The first steps in this direction have already been taken.]

The Kurds oppose all these measures. They are secular and insist that any reference to the Islamic character of Iraq be balanced by a declaration that no law can violate fundamental human rights. They are proud of the progress that women have made in the 14 years of Kurdish self-rule in the north of Iraq and do not want it rolled back. They share none of the antipathy Arab Iraqis feel toward the Jews.

With a population almost unanimously in favor of independence, Kurdistan leaders insist that Iraq have a federal structure that will allow them to retain their secular, Western-oriented political system even if the rest of Iraq falls under the sway of the religious parties. They are alarmed by growing Iranian influence in Baghdad and in the Shi'ite south, and see a strong, self-governing Kurdistan as a barrier to enlarging Iran's influence.

Given the abundant rhetoric about democracy and freedom that has been used to justify the carnage being visited on Iraq, one would think that the Kurds, being the most identifiable group in the country that might be called "allies", would have more sway with Washington. Such is not the case, however.

While the Bush administration professes a hands-off policy toward constitutional deliberations, it has been lobbying hard against a provision that would give Iraq's regions control over natural resources. Having been dependent on payments from Baghdad in the past, the Kurds know that meaningful self-government requires control over their own petroleum. The Bush administration apparently believes a Shi'ite region in the south would be less favorable toward US oil companies than the Shi'ite-run Oil Ministry in Baghdad, but in reality there is unlikely to be a difference. To the dismay of the Kurds, there has been no similar American engagement with regard to the anti-Jewish or antiwoman provisions of the proposed constitution.

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Snips from yesterday's Boston Globe by Peter W. Galbraith, a former US ambassador to Croatia and senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
Thanks, Andrew Apostolou at Apostablog.

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