A Constitution for Iraq

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

Constitutions are always born on wobbly legs; the framers of the U.S. Constitution harbored doubts that it would last long. Similar doubts greeted Monday's signing of a new interim constitution in Iraq by members of the Iraqi Governing Council. But the fact that the fractious council has agreed upon a new charter is a hopeful sign by any standard.

The very act of asserting the Iraqi people's right to the type of government promised by the constitution sets a new benchmark for public expectations. The Kurdish people, for instance, have for the first time in Iraqi history seen their language proclaimed to be on an equal legal footing as Arabic. As Iraq moves toward self-government later this year and a final constitution by December 2005, the Kurds may gain confidence in having a secure status within the larger Iraqi state. Iraq's stability will depend on a lessening of separatist pressures, and the new constitution may help bring that about.

Article 4 of the new charter directly addresses the problems of national unity and separatism: "The system of government in Iraq shall be republican, federal, democratic and pluralistic. ... The federal system shall be based on geographic and historical realities, and not upon origin, ethnicity, nationality, or confession." Since the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, Iraq has been a disparate collection of peoples held together by force. The new constitution aspires to make them into a nation.

The constitution guarantees a long list of rights: Freedom of expression, assembly, movement and travel. The right to form labor unions and political parties, and to go on strike or attend demonstrations. Freedom of thought, conscience and religious belief and practice. The right to security, privacy, education, health care and social security. …