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The former chief constitutional consultant to the interim Iraqi government told students and professors yesterday afternoon that the lack of internal security and the question of where religion belongs in the state pose formidable obstacles to the formation of a federal government in Iraq.
Noah R. Feldman ’92, who was in Iraq helping to organize a constitutional convention for several months, called the Bush administration’s hope that Iraq will hold elections on a new constitution in November “absurdly unrealistic.”
“It’s going to take them 12 months just to get full electricity. They’d be crazy to hold elections before then,” Feldman told the packed audience in the Lowell House Junior Common Room. “The Iraqis want security before they hold elections.”
Since political elections would follow constitutional ratification, Iraqis also reasonably fear that the highly organized extremists would obtain the most votes in a rushed election, Feldman said.
Feldman said that establishing a stable situation in Iraq is his primary concern.
“If the security situation doesn’t improve, we really will see a collapse into civil war,” Feldman said.
The solution to the current security problem is to create a viable Iraqi police force, Feldman said.
“Only Iraqi security forces will know who is likely to be planning some type of attack or bombing,” he said. “There’s no way the U.S. Army will be able to gather that kind of intelligence.”
There is no respect for law in Iraq because under Saddam Hussein the rule of law was enforced through violence, he said.
“One of the reasons we’re having trouble with security in Iraq is that we didn’t shoot the looters. The Iraqis saw that they could loot and we wouldn’t do a blessed thing about it,” Feldman said.
Over the course of his two-hour talk, Feldman emphasized the many obstacles to the successful adoption of a democratic constitution in Iraq while remaining cautiously optimistic that the efforts of the Iraqi Governing Council may succeed.
Provided that security issues improve, Feldman said the struggle to create a federal government in itself will be the biggest obstacle to the establishment of a liberal constitutional democracy.
“The issues of religion and state are on the minds of most outsiders, but the issue of federalism is far more important to the success or failure of building a constitutional Iraq,” he said.
Feldman said that much of the tension comes from the desire of the Kurds, who make up roughly 15 percent of the Iraqi population, to be autonomous.
The Kurds want to be able to teach their children their own language and heritage, but have been pressing for a disproportionate stake in national resources, according to Feldman.
The Bush administration’s conception of federalism in Iraq is to have 18 small states and for the Kurd population to be spread out over four states so that it is harder for them to secede, Feldman said.
But Feldman said he believes there will ultimately be three provinces.
The other main challenge in forming a democracy in Iraq is the tension between religion and state, Feldman said.
Iraqis feel that Islam should be recognized as the state religion, but with a guarantee of civil liberties, he said.
But Feldman said that to people in the U.S. “something doesn’t fit” in this model.
The answer to this problem is for liberties and equalities to be unequivocally written in a new constitution, according to Feldman.
Both Islam and civil liberties should be independently codified in the constitution, Feldman said.
Despite the many challenges, Feldman said he believes that a positive outcome in Iraq is possible.
He said he saw hope in the growing number of newspapers in Iraq.
Feldman said that he is no longer in Iraq because a path to a constitutional convention now exists.
“I know full well the only reason they listened to me is because I had the American army nearby,” Feldman said of his time as an adviser in Iraq. “The Iraqis throw out 95 percent of what we tell them, anyway.”
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