Yesterday, the headlines were all abuzz over the Iraqi parliament's decision to give itself another week to haggle over the draft constitution, which will, if finished, go before the Iraqi voters for a referendum sometime this fall. (It can be defeated by either a majority "no" vote or a "no" vote from two-thirds of voters in any three provinces.) To get a bit more context on what's going on with the ongoing negotiations, and what they portend for the future of Iraq, I recently spoke with Andrew Arato of the New School University, who has written extensively on the subject. The interview's transcribed here:
Mother Jones: What are some of the dangers in the United States the Iraqis to finish the constitution so quickly? Rumsfeld originally told them to stick to the August 15th deadline, and now they've been given an extra week.
Andrew Arato: There are some advantages, to be fair. If the principals can all strike a deal on a constitution, it's important to get it through quickly, because so many actors can bring a deal down. Just over the past few weeks, it just took [Ayatollah Abdul-Aziz] Hakim, [who has recently made demands for an autonomous Shiite "super-province" in the south, along with control of the oil resources there], which was probably motivated by Iran, and suddenly the constitution was in danger. So there are advantages to pushing for a quick deadline.
The big disadvantage, though, is that the principals in this constitutional committee all met only a very short time ago, August 6th, and so now they're rushing, and might not even reach an agreement. Even if they do, another danger is that parliament might just have to rubber-stamp whatever document comes out of committee, because they won't have time to debate it. Ideally, there should be a full parliamentary discussion about this constitution, with debate and amendments; ideally it would be shown on TV for the public to watch. That's really crucial. But with this rush to finish a draft in committee, parliament might have to discuss the final draft in as little as a day, next week. That's no good: then you get a situation similar to what happened with the EU referendum in France and Netherlands, where the public debate is foreshorten, and the constitution is essentially seen as an elite-driven process, which could spur a democratic "no" by the public.
Then of course, this rush makes it look like America's behind all of this. Because there's no Iraqi reason to rush the constitution, after all; instead, it looks like this process is being driven by poll numbers, being rushed for political reasons in America, just like the interim constitution was rushed for political reasons. So [U.S. Ambassador to Iraq] Zalmay Khalilzad now looks like he's imposing on the whole processand even if it's not true, it seems so.