Baghdad Burning

... I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend...

Friday, September 23, 2005
Other Links...
Some other interesting Iraqi blog links-

Free Iraq (Imad Khadduri's blog), A Star from Mosul (another girl blog from Iraq- but this time from Mosul), Treasure of Baghdad (a guy blogger in Baghdad), and an Iraqi blogger abroad, Truth About Iraqis.

Draft Constitution - Part II
Warning: Loooong post.

The final version (Version 3.0) of the Iraqi draft constitution was finally submitted to the UN about ten days ago. It was published in English in the New York Times on the 15th of September.

I blogged about some of the articles in the first two chapters last week, so I’ll jump right to Chapter Three: The Federal Authorities. The first notable difference between the final version of the constitution published in the New York Times and the Arabic version published in Al-Sabah is in article (47) under chapter three which sets down the general conditions for the ‘Council of Representatives’. In the Arabic version, there 6 conditions, while in the English one there are only five.

The condition that isn’t in the English version is the one mentioning that women should make up 25% of the members of the Council of Representatives.

Article (47):

4- Voting laws aspire to achieve women’s representation on the Council of Representatives of a ratio of not less than a quarter.

Previously, when rights groups complained that the draft did not go far enough in ensuring that women's rights were preserved and protected from an Iranian style theocracy, supporters of the draft would point to the above clause and say "see, women's rights ARE protected".

Upon reading the Arabic version of the constitution, that is not necessarily true - the key word in this phrasing is "aspire". This translates accordingly: it isn't mandatory to have 25% women on the council-it is an aspiration, like many of the noble aspirations set down on paper by our esteemed Puppet government.

Almost two years ago, the Governing Council (then headed by SCIRI puppet extraordinaire Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim) came out with Decree 137 to abolish the Personal Status Law. Women’s rights groups rose up and demanded that Paul Bremer turn the decision around- which he did. We were made grateful that our secular laws were not abolished by the pro-occupation puppets!

With this draft constitution, Decree 137 has virtually been brought back to life and aspiring to have 25% of the Council of Representatives female isn’t going to compensate for that- especially when the overwhelming majority of the above-mentioned women are from parties like Da’awa and SCIRI.

I’m wondering- where is the outrage of pro-occupation, pro-war women’s rights advocates? Why the deafening silence, ladies?

According to Article (58) in the same section, the Council of Representatives will be responsible for the selection (through vote) of the president. Why shouldn’t presidential elections be through direct vote?

On the issue of the President of the Republic, there is an interesting article in the Executive Authority section of the same chapter. Article (65) lists the conditions for the President of the Republic (which are the same for the Prime Minister):

Article (65):

The candidate for the president's post must:

1st -- be Iraqi by birth from Iraqi parents.
2nd -- be legally competent and have reached the age of 40.
3rd -- have a good reputation and political experience and be known for his integrity, rectitude, justice and devotion to the homeland.
4th -- not have been convicted of a crime that violates honor.

“Be Iraqi by birth from Iraqi parents” is significant in that it emphasizes that BOTH parents must be Iraqi (this is more pronounced in the Arabic version of the constitution with the use of grammar ‘abouwayn iraqiayn’). While this seems very natural it is noteworthy because it means that secular American darling Iyad Allawi is out of the picture as candidate for the presidency and the prime ministry. It is very well-known in Iraq that Allawi’s mother is Lebanese from a prominent Lebanese family (and related to Chalabi’s wife).

Saudi Arabia is speaking up lately against Iranian influence in Iraq. Many suspect it is because Saudi favorites like Ghazi Ajeel Al-Yawir and Allawi have been sidelined and Iran-influenced politicians like Jaafari and Hakim are now in power.

“Not have been convicted of a crime that violates honor” is also interesting. Does that mean it’s ok to have been convicted of other types of crimes? Like Chalabi, for example- embezzlement- is that ok? Just what crimes violate honor and what crimes keep honor intact


Chapter 5: Authorities of the Regions is troubling. I have no problem with the concept of federalism. We’ve been accustomed to an autonomous Kurdistan for decades. The current laws about federalism and regional policies in the draft constitution might better be titled the “Roadmap to Divide Iraq”.

Article (115) is especially worrying. It states:

Article (115):

Every province or more has the right to establish a region based on a request for a referendum to be submitted in one of the following ways:

1st -- A request from one-third of the members in each of the provincial councils in the provinces that wish to establish a region.
2nd -- A request from one-tenth of the voters in each of the provinces that wish to establish a region.

This means that any two provinces can decide they’d like to become a ‘region’ with laws and regulations differing from surrounding regions. Article (116) fortifies this right with:
Article (116):

The region writes a constitution for itself, defines the structure of the region's powers and its authorities as well as the mechanism of using these powers in a way that does not run contrary to the constitution.)

So basically, each region will get their own constitution which must not run contrary to the draft constitution. Also, according to the language article (4), clause 5:

Article (4):
5th -- Any region or province can take a local language as an additional official language if a majority of the population approves in a universal referendum.
The abovementioned region may take on its own ‘local’ language.

Article (117) has a clause that authorizes “regional authorities” to:

Article (117):
5th -- The regional government shall be in charge of all that's required for administering the region, especially establishing and regulating internal security forces for the region such as police, security and guards for the region.)

So here’s a riddle: what do you call a region with its own constitution, its own government, its own regional guard and possibly its own language? It’s quite simple- you call it a country.

Article (137) of the Transitional Guidelines in Chapter 6 says:

Article (137):

The Transitional Administration Law for the Iraqi State and its appendix are voided upon creation of the new government, except for what appears in paragraph (a) of Article 53 and Article 58 of the Transitional Administration Law.)

The above article refers to the Transitional Administration Law set out by Paul Bremer during the very early days of the occupation. This is one of the only clauses that shall remain:

Article 53 [Kurdistan Regional Government]

(A) The Kurdistan Regional Government is recognized as the official government of the territories that were administered by the that government on 19 March 2003 in the governorates of Dohuk, Arbil, Sulaimaniya, Kirkuk, Diyala and Neneveh. The term "Kurdistan Regional Government" shall refer to the Kurdistan National Assembly, the Kurdistan Council of Ministers, and the regional judicial authority in the Kurdistan region.

This is outrageous because the areas administered by ‘that government’ on the 19th of March, 2003 are highly disputed. Kirkuk, Diyala and Nenevah (Mosul) are certainly not parts of the autonomous Kurdish region, no matter what the Kurdistan Regional Government decided on the 19th of March, 2003- the very beginning of the war.

And Kurdistan is really the least of Iraq’s worries. There is talk of possibly setting up an autonomous region in the south that will be run by pro-Iran extremists Da’awa and SCIRI. Should provinces like Karbala and Najaf decide to form a region in the south, America can congratulate itself on the creation of an extended Iran. Already, these provinces are running on their own rules and regulations, with their own militias.

Federalism is ok when a country is stable. It’s fantastic when countries or troubled regions are attempting to unite. In present-day Iraq it promises to be catastrophic. It will literally divide the country and increase instability. This is especially true with the kind of federalism they want to practice in Iraq.

Federalism based on geography is acceptable, but federalism based on ethnicity and sect? Why not simply declare civil war and get it over with?

Saturday, September 17, 2005
Draft Constitution - Part I...
I’ve been reading and re-reading the Iraqi draft constitution since the beginning of September. I decided to ignore the nagging voice in my head that kept repeating, “A new constitution cannot be legitimate under an occupation!” and also the one that was saying, “It isn’t legitimate because the government writing it up isn’t legitimate.” I put those thoughts away and decided to try to view the whole situation as dispassionately as possible.

It was during the online search for the *real* draft constitution that the first problem with the document hit me. There are, as far as I can tell, three different versions. There are two different Arabic versions and the draft constitution translated to English in the New York Times a few weeks ago differs from them both. I wish I could understand the Kurdish version- I wonder if that is different too. The differences aren’t huge- some missing clauses or articles. Then again, this is a constitution- not a blog… one would think precision is a must.

The constitution is basically in seven parts: Preamble, Chapter 1: Basic Principles, Chapter 2: Rights and Freedoms, Chapter 3: Federal Authorities, Chapter 4: Powers of the Federal Authorities, Chapter 5: Regional Authorities, and Chapter 6: Transitional and Final Guidelines.

I scanned the preamble once without bothering to re-read it every time I saw a new version of the constitution. It is somewhat long and dark and reads more like a political statement than the opening lines of what should be a document that will go down in history. I later realized that this was a mistake. In the varying versions, the preamble differs in its opening lines, as freelance journalist Alexander Gainem notes in the following article:

Furthermore, confusion has been added by the existence of two versions of the same draft, each with a different introduction in Arabic. The first begins, "We the peoples of Iraq..." while the second version starts off with "We the peoples of the valley of two rivers..." It is unclear which version will be submitted to the United Nations but there is stark distinction between the two versions. The latter would seem to indicate that people living in Iraq are not constitutionally obliged to call themselves Iraqi and this could potentially open the door for changing the name of the country at some point.

Beginning with the first chapter, Basic Principles, there are several interesting articles. Article (2) seems to be the biggest concern for journalists and analysts abroad. It states:

Article (2):
  1. Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation, and no law that contradicts its fixed principles and rules may be passed.
  2. No law can be passed that contradicts the principles of democracy, or the rights and basic freedoms outlined in this constitution.
  3. The constitution respects the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people, and guarantees the full religious rights for all individuals and the freedom of creed and religious practices.

Now, I’m a practicing Muslim female. I believe in the principles and rules of Islam I practice- otherwise I wouldn’t be practicing them. The problem is not with Islam, the problem is with the dozens of interpretations of Islamic rules and principles. Islam is like any other religion in that its holy book and various teachings may be interpreted in different ways. In Iraq we see this firsthand because we have ample example of varying Islamic interpretations from two neighbors- Iran and Saudi Arabia. Who will decide which religious rules and principles are the ones that shouldn’t be contradicted by the constitution?

In the old constitution that was being used up until the war, the ‘Temporary Constitution’ of 1970 which came into implementation on the 16th of July, 1970, the only reference to Islam is in Article (4) which simply states: “Islam is the religion of the state.” There is nothing about its role in the constitution.

In one version of the constitution printed in some newspapers in August was another potentially problematic article in the first chapter. It was numbered Article (12). As far as I can tell, it isn’t in the English version of the constitution- and has possibly been lifted from the final version. Article (12) states (and please excuse the translation):

Article (12):
The religious Marja’ia is respected for its spiritual role and it is a prominent religious symbol on the national and Islamic fronts; and the state cannot tamper with its private affairs.

Marja’ia in Arabic means ‘reference’. Basically, this article discusses the ‘religious reference’ which should mean, I suppose, any religious Marja’ia in Iraq. However, in Iraq, any time the word Marja’ia is used, it is in direct allusion to the Shia religious figures like Sistani and the other Marja’ia figures in Najaf and Karbala.

Why is it that the state can have no influence on the Marja’ia but there is no clause saying that, in return, the Marja’ia cannot tamper in matters of state or constitution? The Marja’ia has influence over the lives of millions of Iraqis (and millions of Muslims worldwide, for that matter). The laws of the Marja’ia for some supersede the laws of state. For example, if the Marja’ia declares the religiously acceptable marrying age to be 10 and the state declares the legal age to be 18, won’t that be unconstitutional? The state cannot pass laws that do not agree with the basic principles and rules of Islam and for millions, the Marja’ia sets those rules.

The most interesting article in Chapter 1, however, was in the first draft of the constitution published on August 22 by some newspapers but it isn’t in the final draft (at least it’s not in the New York Times English version). It is numbered Article (16), in the version of the draft constitution it appeared in:

Article (16):

  1. It is forbidden for Iraq to be used as a base or corridor for foreign troops.
  2. It is forbidden to have foreign military bases in Iraq.
  3. The National Assembly can, when necessary, and with a majority of two thirds of its members, allow what is mentioned in 1 and 2 of this article.

This one is amusing because in the first two parts of the article, foreign troops are forbidden and then in the third, they’re kind of allowed… well sometimes- when the puppets deem it necessary (to keep them in power). What is worrisome about this article, on seeing the final version of the draft constitution, is its mysterious disappearance- in spite of the fact that it leaves a lot of leeway for American bases in Iraq. Now, in the final version of the constitution, there is nothing about not having foreign troops in the country or foreign bases, at the very least. The ‘now you see it’/ ‘now you don’t’ magical effect of this article, especially, reinforces the feeling that this constitution is an ‘occupation constitution’.

When we get to Chapter 2: Rights and Freedoms, the cutting and pasting really begins. Upon first reading it, many of the articles and clauses sounded very familiar. After a few, it hit me that some of them were taken almost word for word from the Temporary Constitution of 1970, implemented up until the war (this constitution having been based on the constitution before it).

Ironically, well over half of the section “Rights and Freedoms” was lifted from the 1970 Temporary Constitution, making the moral of the story: It’s not the fancy words in the constitution, it’s the government that will actually implement said words.

The rights of women in the new constitution are quite murky. In one version, printed in the New Sabah newspaper in August, there is a clause about the state guaranteeing the rights of women in their family, social and economic setting and equality between men and women in order to allow women to make substantial contributions to the state as long as it does not contradict the constitution! This article is not in the final draft.

In the final draft of the constitution, women are mentioned as having the right to vote and run for government. The rest of the references to women are hardly flattering- women are mentioned in context with ‘children and the elderly’. In the 1970 constitution, women aren’t mentioned at all. References are made to “Iraqis” or “citizens”- this does not single out women as needing special attention or care because they are less capable people needing male guidance or surveillance.


Article (30):
1st -- The state guarantees social and health insurance, the basics for a free and honorable life for the individual and the family -- especially children and women -- and works to protect them from illiteracy, fear and poverty and provides them with housing and the means to rehabilitate and take care of them. This shall be regulated by law.

Women's rights won't be apparent until the Personal Status Law is defined clearly. Former Iraqi Personal Status Law was the most advanced in the region. It secured advanced rights for Iraqi women. This, like everything else, is subject to change and the following article makes this very clear:

Article (39):

Iraqis are free in their adherence to their personal status according to their own religion, sect, belief and choice, and that will be organized by law.

Basically, Iraqis will be able to practice their own personal status laws according to religion and sect. This article, in itself, is a can of worms in the making and only a set of lawyers and a group of Muslim religious scholars will ever be able to explain the implications properly.

I’ll blog more tomorrow about the issue of federalism, and the coming referendum- this post is already long enough.

Sunday, September 11, 2005
September 11, 2005...
“R.- come in here! You have to see this!” It was September 11, 2001 and I was in the kitchen rinsing some dishes from lunch. I paused at the urgency in my brothers voice but continued rinsing, thinking there was some vaguely important news item on Iraq’s state controlled channel.

“I’m coming- a moment.” I called back. The phone began to ring and I stopped to answer it on my way out of the kitchen.

R: “Alloo?” I answered.
L: “Are you watching tv???” L., my best friend, cried out with no preliminaries.
R: “Uh… no- but…”

The line went dead and I put down the phone, my heart beating wildly. I made my way to the living room, curious and nervous, wondering what it could be. Had someone died? Were they going to bomb us again? That was always a possibility. It never surprised anyone when the US decided on an air strike. I wondered if, this time around, Bush had been caught with a presidential aide in the Oval Office.

I walked into the living room and E. was standing in the middle of it- eyes glued to the television, mouth slightly open, remote control clutched in his hand, and directed towards the television set.

“What is it?” I asked, looking at the screen. The images were chaotic. It was a big city, there was smoke or dust and people running across the screen, some screaming, others crying and the rest with astounded looks on their faces. They looked slightly like E., my brother, as he stood staring at the television, gaping. There was someone speaking in the background- in English- and there was a voiceover in Arabic. I can’t remember what was being said; the images on the tv screen are all I remember. Confusion. Havoc.

And then they showed it again. The Twin Towers- New York… a small something came flying out of the side of the screen and it crashed into one of them. I gasped audibly and E. just shook his head, “That’s nothing… wait…” I made my way towards the couch while keeping my eyes locked on the television. There was some more chaos, shocked expressions, another plane and the towers- they began to crumble. They began to fall. They disappeared into an enormous fog of smoke and dust.

I sucked in my breath and I couldn’t exhale that moment. I just sat there- paralyzed- watching the screen. A part of me was saying, “It’s a joke. It’s Hollywood.” But it was just too real. The fear was too genuine. The incoherent voices in the background were too tinged with confusion and terror.

The silence in the living room was broken with the clatter of the remote control on the floor. It had slipped out of E.’s fingers and I jumped nervously, watching the batteries from the remote roll away on the ground.

“But… who? How? What was it? A plane? How???”

E. shook his head and looked at me in awe. We continued watching the television, looking for answers to dozens of questions. Within the hour we had learned that it wasn’t some horrid mistake or miscalculation. It was intentional. It was a major act of terror.

Al-Qaeda was just a vague name back then. Iraqis were concerned with their own problems and fears. We were coping with the sanctions and the fact that life seemed to stand still every few years for an American air raid. We didn’t have the problem of Muslim fundamentalists- that was a concern for neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

I remember almost immediately, Western media began conjecturing on which Islamic group it could have been. I remember hoping it wasn’t Muslims or Arabs. I remember feeling that way not just because of the thousands of victims, but because I sensed that we’d suffer in Iraq. We’d be made to suffer for something we weren’t responsible for.

E. looked at me wide-eyed that day and asked the inevitable question, “How long do you think before they bomb us?”

“But it wasn’t us. It can’t be us…” I rationalized.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s all they need.”

And it was true. It began with Afghanistan and then it was Iraq. We began preparing for it almost immediately. The price of the dollar rose as people began stocking up on flour, rice, sugar and other commodities.

For several weeks it was all anyone could talk about. We discussed it in schools and universities. We talked about it in work places and restaurants. The attitudes differed. There was never joy or happiness, but in several cases there was a sort of grim satisfaction. Some Iraqis believed that America had brought this upon itself. This is what you get when you meddle in world affairs. This is what you get when starve populations. This is what you get when you give unabashed support to occupying countries like Israel, and corrupt tyrants like the Saudi royals.

Most Iraqis, though, felt pity. The images for the next weeks of Americans running in terror, of the frantic searches under the rubble for relatives and friends left us shaking our heads in empathy. The destruction was all too familiar. The reports of Americans fearing the sound of airplanes had us nodding our heads with understanding and a sort of familiarity- you’d want to reach out to one of them and say, “It’s ok- the fear eventually subsides. We know how it is- your government does this every few years.”

It has been four years today. How does it feel four years later?

For the 3,000 victims in America, more than 100,000 have died in Iraq. Tens of thousands of others are being detained for interrogation and torture. Our homes have been raided, our cities are constantly being bombed and Iraq has fallen back decades, and for several years to come we will suffer under the influence of the extremism we didn't know prior to the war.

As I write this, Tel Afar, a small place north of Mosul, is being bombed. Dozens of people are going to be buried under their homes in the dead of the night. Their water and electricity have been cut off for days. It doesn’t seem to matter much though because they don’t live in a wonderful skyscraper in a glamorous city. They are, quite simply, farmers and herders not worth a second thought.

Four years later and the War on Terror (or is it the War of Terror?) has been won:

Al-Qaeda – 3,000
America – 100,000+


Friday, September 09, 2005
Back to Blogging...
It has been a long blog vacation I’ve taken. There have been several reasons behind it but the main one has been that I simply have not felt like blogging.

Technically, it’s the summers end… But realistically, we have at least another month of stifling heat ahead of us. It’s almost mid-September and the weather is still hot and dry in Baghdad. There are a few precious hours in the very early morning when the sun seems almost kind. If you wake early enough, you can catch a solid hour of light breezes and a certain summer coolness.

The electrical situation deteriorated this summer in Baghdad. We’ve gone from a solid 8 – 10 hours daily to around six. During the winter, we have generators in the area providing electricity when it goes off. In the summer, however, with the heat and the heavy electrical load from air-conditioners AND the fuel shortage, many generators have to be turned off for most of the day.

We’re also having water difficulties, though people have grown accustomed to that. You can tell first thing in the morning that the water is cut off. I woke up this morning and knew it even before I had gotten out of bed. The house just sounds… dry. You strain your ears for the familiar house sounds and they aren’t there- there’s no drip-drip-drip from the faucet in the bathroom down the hall. There’s no sound of dishes being washed in the kitchen downstairs. There’s no sound of a toilet being flushed, and certainly no sound of a shower. The house is dry.

The dryness and heat are a stark contrast to the images we see on television of Mississippi and Louisiana. Daily, we watch the havoc Katrina left in its wake and try to determine which are more difficult to bear- man-made catastrophes like wars and occupations, or natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis.

Many areas in Baghdad seem almost shrouded in black these last two weeks- ever since the A’aima Bridge tragedy. There’s a mosque a few kilometers away from our house and the last two years we’ve been accustomed to seeing the large black banners draped across its outer walls. On each banner are carefully painted words in elaborate Arabic fonts announcing the death of another Iraqi and notifying people that the male members of the family would be receiving condolences inside the mosque for the next few days.

Now, the dusty beige surface of the mosque wall is nearly invisible under the black of death announcements. The eye can barely take it all in. The most disquieting thing about the banners is that many of them no longer carry a single name- after the bridge stampede, the banners now announce the deaths of two, three, four members of the same family.

I’ve been reading and re-reading the draft constitution. It’s alarming. At times it feels like only a summary of what a constitution should be with articles that don’t seem very well thought out- a cut and paste job if there ever was one. It doesn’t seem complete and while in some places it comes across as too vague, in others it comes across as disturbingly elaborate. I’ll have a whole blog about the draft constitution tomorrow- or at least what I’ve understood of it.

Powered by Blogger