A constitution is no easy document to write. Despite pressure from various quarters, Iraq’s 71 constitutional drafters have been unable to meet the first deadline set by the US for a complete constitution. And despite the generous one-week extension – one wonders if they will get docked a grade for turning it in late – the remaining issues are contentious and difficult to reconcile in such a short timeframe. Chief among them is the role of Islam in governing the people of Iraq. Some women’s groups are concerned that if a conservative interpretation of Islam dominates, many rights enjoyed under Saddam Hussein’s regime – equal court testimony, right to custody of children after a divorce, and the right to full inheritance – would be eliminated. (Others, however, say that the more basic right of survival is more important for now.) Also, while Shia Islamic law would apply to Shias and Sunni Islamic law to Sunnis, it is unclear how the law would apply to situations involving both – not to mention non-Muslims. In addition, Kurdish Iraqis are quite happy with the autonomy they’ve enjoyed over the past decade, and are loathe to give it up so easily by agreeing to a strong central government in Baghdad. The Shias in the south are also tempted by a loose federal system to keep themselves separated from the Sunnis that used to dominate them. But despite these hurdles, the pressure from the US to finish the document continues unabated, as an Iraqi constitution is seen as a crucial step in ending the occupation. Incidentally, in its 57-year history, Israel has never been able to write a constitution, for reasons very similar to those that Iraq is struggling with, including the role of religion, geography and borders, and the type of governing structure. (Laws spread out over various documents fill the gap for now.) So why rush the Iraqi one? Sometimes good things take time.
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.