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In 2005, Iraq drafted its first constitution
and held the country’s first democratic election in more than fifty years. Even
under ideal conditions, drafting a constitution can be a prolonged process
marked by contentious debate, and conditions in Iraq are far from ideal: Iraq
has long been racked by ethnic andsectarian conflict, which intensified following the
American invasion and continues today. This severe division, which often
erupted into violence, would not seem to bode well for the fate of democracy.
So how is it that Iraq was able to surmount its sectarianism to draft a
constitution that speaks to the conflicting and largely incompatible ideological
view of the Sunnis, Shi’ah, and Kurds?
Haider Ala Hamoudi served in 2009 as
an adviser to Iraq’s Constitutional Review Committee, and he argues here that
the terms of the Iraqi Constitution are sufficiently capacious to be
interpreted in a variety of ways, allowing it to appeal to the country’s three
main sectsdespite their deep disagreements. While some say that this ambiguity
avoids the challenging compromises that ultimately must be made if the state is
to survive, Hamoudi maintains that to force these compromises on issues of
central importance to ethnic and sectarian identity would almost certainly
result in the imposition of one group’s views on the others. Drawing on the
original negotiating documents, he shows that this feature of the Constitution
was not an act of evasion, as is sometimes thought, but a mark of its drafters’
awareness in recognizing the need to permit the groups the time necessary to
develop their own methods of working with one another over time.