Iraqi Constitution and the 800-Pound American Gorilla

Dr. Robert D. Crane

Posted Feb 10, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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The Iraqi Constitution and the 800-Pound American Gorilla

  One of our problems is that too many people in Washington assume that the American Constitution was not designed for the modern era of asymmetrical warfare and Muslim terrorists under every bed, at least not in America, but they have concluded by an oxymoronic flight of fancy that it is our moral obligation to install their secularist perversion of it everywhere else in the world. 

  Fortunately, the autistic refusal to listen to anyone else who questions both assumptions now seems to be weakening simply because President Bush is concluding that America cannot run the world all by itself.  Talk about a paradigm shift!

  The Neo-Cons in Washington met their match in one man, Ayatollah Sistani, who has genuine authority and therefore genuine leadership in Iraq.  The American government governed Iraq by “command through force” as in the military, which caused them to lose the power that comes naturally from “leadership through authority.”  The provisional occupation strategists tried to ignore Ayatollah Sistani as irrelevant to the future.  President Bush must be commended for finally facing the reality that the future of Iraq will be determined by Ayatollah Sistani more than by all other factors combined.  Probably President Bush can never admit this publically because any such admission would undermine the governing American paradigm that asserts the inevitability of neo-con global hegemony.

  The story of President Bush’s education in the realities of the Middle East has never been told to the American public, but perhaps it should be.  The first American ruler in Iraq, Paul Bremer, dictated a new Iraqi constitution less than a year after President Bush appointed him to be his pro-consul.  Bremer declared that a constitution would be adopted only after a series of caucuses, dominated by people he selected, would choose an assembly which would then draft a constitution (the one Bremer had already adopted) and present it to the Iraqi people for an up-or-down vote in a referendum. 

  Ayatollah Sistani immediately issued a fatwa forbidding such a constitution and such a constitutional process, so Bremer’s elaborate scheme was “dead on arrival.”  Bush then entreated the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, to send in the Algerian diplomat, Lakhdar Brahimi, to broker a “compromise” by accepting exactly what Sistani demanded.  A key card in this poker game was Muqteda al Sadr who served as Ayatollah Sistani’s ace in the hole.  Accept the deal or face the insurrection of ten million Shi’a all willing to die for their freedom.

  Today we have exactly what Ayatollah Sistani had planned, namely, a new government elected after both overt and covert campaigning by popular political parties.  This gave Sistani’s coalition party sufficient power in the new Iraqi parliament to write the constitution all by itself without the need to pay attention to anyone else, especially not to Iyad Allawi’s predictably devastated party backed by the U.S. government. 

  The radical insurgents followed a strategy, utterly stupid for them, to try to disrupt and boycott the elections, which neatly eliminated them from power and gave them only two options.  These are to accept whatever power Sistani will give to them out of the goodness of his heart (and his both spiritual and political wisdom) or else to fight a probably losing battle in a civil war in which the longer they resisted the less power they eventually would have.

  The only issue worth considering now is what kind of constitution Ayatollah Sistani will both inspire and approve.  He is now the generally acknowledged world leader of the 200,000,000 Shi’a in the world, and is recognized by 90% of them as superior to the heretical radicals now running the key government institutions in Iran.  As a orthodox Shi’a, Ayatollah Sistani has always opposed the totally un-Islamic doctrine of the wilayat al faqih, according to which professional religious clerics should run the civil government.  As a long-time resident of Iran, he knows better than most how dangerous the Iranian model would be for the future of Iraq and of the Muslim world generally.  And he also is well aware of the forces around President Khatemi, which not now but eventually may shape the future of Iran.

  The key issue before us now concerns the source of constitutional law in Iraq, and by implication throughout the Shi’a parts of the Muslim world, and, in fact, far beyond them.  Ayatollah Sistani insists that the Islamic paradigm of thought embodied in Islamic law, including its general principles of human responsibilities and human rights embodied in the maqasid al shari’ah, will be the overall source of law in Iraq.

  Details of various options for the preparation of the Iraqi constitution are analysed in the three-hour presentation with questions and answers sponsored jointly by several organizations at Columbia University Law School on October 3, 2003.  A video of this program is available for viewing and purchase at under the heading Robert Dickson Crane. 

see also No Islamic Government in Iraq, Don’t Be So Sure