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What should form the basis for the new democratic Iraqi constitution?

By David Flint - posted Monday, 28 April 2003

The reasons for the liberation of Iraq are three: the continuing and serious breaches of the terms of the 1991 Gulf War ceasefire, the military superiority of the coalition, and above all the beliefs - and the courage - of the three leaders of the Anglo-Australian-American (AAA) coalition.

The first broadside against the AAA coalition was the argument that the intervention was in breach of international law, with the threat that the leaders, their ministers and their officers might end up before the International Criminal Court. Now the argument that some or other measure taken by a democratic government is against international law is becoming a very tired and predictable mantra, recalling an old Arab saying: "The dogs bark, and the caravan moves on".

And the caravan has indeed moved on. Yet at every point, we were told that disaster was imminent. We were told that the intervention would result in a massacre of civilians, that coalition planning was in disarray, that the coalition was disastrously under resourced, that it was going into a quagmire, that the battles for Basra and Baghdad would be a new Stalingrad, etc. As each criticism and prediction was shown to be completely wrong, new ones were instantly thrown up. As they will inevitably be as long as the coalition remains in Iraq, and even afterwards. Stand by for the books and films on this.


In the meantime, having ensured, as the Soviets did, that the Security Council would be sidelined, the leaders of the newly emerging Triple Alliance (Paris-Berlin-Moscow) now argue that the future governor of Iraq should be chosen by the Council - that is by them. This is supported by the same commentators who denounced the intervention, the letter writers who constantly tell us they are ashamed to be Australian as well as no doubt the demonstrators, including those who desecrated Sydney's Anglican cathedral. (Their justification? They thought it was a synagogue!)

Leaving the governance of Iraq to the Security Council would obviously be a recipe for indecision and unworthy compromise. The fact is that since the Second World War, almost every territory liberated by the Americans, the British and the Australians was left by them as a free and democratic state. (The exceptions were those colonies handed back to other powers and Hong Kong, where the installation of democratic institutions would have been interpreted as a provocation by Mao.)

Consistent with this tradition, the coalition will gradually hand over power, under tutelage, to an interim Iraqi administration. This will no doubt emerge from the opposition in exile and from domestic elements untainted by Ba'ath party affiliations. And in due course a constituent assembly will no doubt be called. Its task will be to make the new Iraq democratic, and preferably federal. Fortunately it is the coalition, and not the Triple Alliance, who is most experienced in advising on these matters, for they enjoy constitutional arrangements which have proved to be among the most democratic and most stable in the world.

The future federal structure should not stress ethnic division but be essentially territorial. Thus the old geographic names of the Ottoman Empire provinces are preferable to say, Kurdistan, which would have the added disadvantage of provoking Turkey. It should ensure that the states are strong and properly funded, indeed as strong as the Australian states were intended to be. So, with the benefit of Australian hindsight the constitution should attempt to forestall the political-judicial alliance that weakened our states.

There are only two constitutional models worth considering for Iraq - Westminster or Washington. The American system works very well, based as it was on the then colonial system and a perhaps convenient exaggeration of King George III's role. In the American colonies, the governor, sometimes chosen by the colonists, was appointed by, and responsible to London and not the legislature which was under the control of the colonists. So the US today has an executive vested in one person, the President, who cannot be removed except by impeachment. Would this work in a country and a culture which has inherited a "caudillo" tradition, that is rule by a messianic strong man? The US system has not worked well whenever it was translated to another culture, the Hispanic. The president has too often become the strong-man dictator. This even happened in France, when she experimented with an executive presidency. The first and only president engineered a coup, converting himself into another autocratic Emperor, NapoleonIII! (Not that France had great success with her Westminster republics, the Third and the Fourth.)

So it would seem that for Iraq there are too many dangers in an executive presidency for Iraq. In fact, until 1958, Iraq lived under an apparently benign and democratic Westminster-style constitution, marred by the politicisation of the Army, especially those younger officers who dreamed of a single Arab nation and resented continuing British influence. When they engineered a coup to install a pro-Nazi government in 1941 they went too far, and Churchill had to intervene to restore constitutional order.


The solution today may well lie in a Westminster federation, more like Australia or Canada. Indeed Egypt and, as we have seen, Iraq had something like the Westminster system until the dictators took over. Now Jordan and Iraq are becoming more democratic. And one of the most attractive Iraq opposition leaders, working with Ahmed Chalabi, is the urbane and sophisticated Sharif Ali bin Al-Hussein, one of the survivors of the massacre of the Royal Family in the coup in 1958, which installed a succession of bloodthirsty dictators. He will no doubt play a significant role in this exercise in nation building.

We are on the threshold of a truly exciting development, the introduction - some would say the reintroduction of democracy into the Arab world, but a democracy which must have the full panoply of constitutional checks and balances to ensure against the emergence of yet another messianic strongman - the sort of politician who believes he is uniquely endowed with his "big picture" vision. The world has surely seen enough of them.

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About the Author

David Flint is a former chairman of the Australian Press Council and the Australian Broadcasting Authority, is author of The Twilight of the Elites, and Malice in Media Land, published by Freedom Publishing. His latest monograph is Her Majesty at 80: Impeccable Service in an Indispensable Office, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, Sydney, 2006

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