August 21, 2005
If the Bush administration brokered a deal in Occupied Iraq to enshrine Islamic law as the guiding principle of the new Iraqi Constitution, you'd think it would be headline news in the U.S. media, wouldn't you? Well, that's what has happened -- yet you can search the Sunday papers in vain to find this sell-out to the Islamists clearly portrayed -- or, in some cases, even mentioned.
In a dispatch that Reuters moved at 1:33 P.M. on Saturday (August 20), the headline reads, "U.S. concedes ground to Islamists on Iraqi law." "U.S. diplomats have conceded ground to Islamists on the role of religion in Iraq, negotiators said on Saturday as they raced to meet a 48-hour deadline to draft a constitution under intense U.S. pressure," Reuters reported. "Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish negotiators all said there was accord on a bigger role for Islamic law than Iraq had before.
"But a secular Kurdish politician said Kurds opposed making Islam 'the,' not 'a,'main source of law -- changing current wording -- and subjecting all legislation to a religious test. 'We understand the Americans have sided with the Shi'ites," he said. "It's shocking. It doesn't fit American values. They have spent so much blood and money here, only to back the creation of an Islamist state ... I can't believe that's what the Americans really want or what the American people want.'"
Under the soporific headline, "Iraqi Talks Move Ahead on Some Issues," The Sunday New York Times did report, under an August 20 Baghdad deadline, that "Under a deal brokered Friday by the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad (right), Islam was to be named "a primary source of legislation" in the new Iraqi constitution, with the proviso that no legislation be permitted that conflicted with the 'universal principles' of the religion. The latter phrase raised concerns that Iraqi judges would have wide latitude to strike down laws now on the books, as well as future legislation. At the same time, according to a Kurdish leader involved in the talks, Mr. Khalilzad had backed language that would have given clerics sole authority in settling marriage and family disputes. That gave rise to concerns that women's rights, as they are enunciated in Iraq's existing laws, could be curtailed. Finally, according to the person close to the negotiations, Mr. Khalilzad had been backing an arrangement that could have allowed clerics to have a hand in interpreting the constitution." But because of the way the Times presented the story, it's doubtful that anyone bothered to pay attention to it or wade into the body of the story to find this revealing detail.
The Washington Post also put a snooze of a headline on its Sunday story: "Kurds Fault U.S. on Iraqi Charter," said the Post header -- but it's not until the story's fifth paragraph that one gets to the meat, when the paper reports that, "The working draft of the constitution stipulates that no law can contradict Islamic principles. In talks with Shiite religious parties, Kurdish negotiators said they have pressed unsuccessfully to limit the definition of Islamic law to principles agreed upon by all groups. The Kurds said current language in the draft would subject Iraqis to extreme interpretations of Islamic law. Kurds also contend that provisions in the draft would allow Islamic clerics to serve on the high court, which would interpret the constitution. That would potentially subject marriage, divorce, inheritance and other civil matters to religious law and could harm women's rights, according to the Kurdish negotiators and some women's groups."
Moreover, the Post devalued the impact of this information by relying solely on Kurdish sources. But the Reuters dispatch also cited one of the main Sunni negotiators on the Constitution confirming the U.S. sell-out to the Islamists: "Sunni Arab negotiator Saleh al-Mutlak also said a deal was struck which would mean parliament could pass no legislation that 'contradicted Islamic principles. A constitutional court would rule on any dispute on that, [a] Shi'ite official [of one of the main parties in the governing coalition] said," Reuters reported, further quoting the Sunni's Mutlak as saying "The Americans agreed...."
Given the way the two national U.S. dailies -- which set the TV news agenda -- played this story, it's hardly surprising that shallow little George Stephanopoulos (right), on this morning's ABC political chat show "This Week," didn't even bother to raise the question of the U.S. cave-in to an Islamic Constitution, neither when quizzing several U.S. Senators (Republicans Allen and Hagel) and Gov. Bill Richardson on Iraq, nor in the round-table discussion with journalists which followed. And on NBC's "Meet the Press" this morning, David Gregory (subbing for Tim Russert) also failed to bring up the U.S. sell-out to an Islamist Constitution in long discussions of Iraq with Sens. Russ Feingold and Trent Lott (Feingold should have mentioned it--but didn't), although Gregory did bring it up in a roundtable at the very end of the show (by which time a lot of people had probably switched to watching "Sports Wives" -- why didn't Gregory talk about this important news at the top of the hour, particularly when questioning Lott, who kept insisting "we're making progress" in Iraq?)
The Reuters dispatch also contained this useful and highly relevant reminder, absent from both the Times and Post reports: that Bush's ambassador to Iraq, Khalilzad, "helped draft a constitution in his native Afghanistan that declared it an 'Islamic Republic' in which no law could contradict Islam." And the Post story, way down, quoted the Sunni's Mutlak as saying of Khalilzad, "'His main interest is to push the constitution on time, no matter what the constitution has in it,'' said Salih Mutlak, a Sunni delegate who has been outspoken against some compromise proposals. 'No country in the world can draft their constitution in three months. They themselves took 10 years,' Mutlak said, referring to the United States. 'Why do they wish to impose a silly constitution on us?'" Meanwhile, the AP reports this morning that the Sunnis say they've been left out of the negotiations over the Constitution.-- a sure prescription for more violence in Iraq.
Why is the Bush administration strong-arming the Iraqis into rushing through a new Constitution with so little time to craft it? Two reasons: Bush desperately wants to score a p.r. victory in "the war on terror," in which his administration continues to insist that Iraq is the main front (even though it is the U.S. occupation of Iraq that is now the main motivator for terrorist-style violence); and because failure to achieve a new Constitution on time would undoubtedly cause new elections in Iraq -- and the Bushies are terribly afraid of the Iraqi voters, fearing that discontent in the country with the U.S. occupation and its failure to bring either security from violence or to deliver basics -- like water and electric power-- would lead to the election of a government less maleable by Washington, thus creating further U.S. domestic backlash against the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq. That short-sighted desire for achieving something that could be sold by Bush's spinmeisters to the American people as 'progress" in Iraq is what's driven Bush's man to break arms on behalf of an Islamist Constitution for Iraq.
The Reuters report cited above is reinforced by the coverage in the daily Al-Hayat, cited by Middle East expert Prof. Juan Cole this morning on his excellent blog, Informed Content. Cole (left) writes: "In one of the major disputes outstanding between the Kurds and the Shiites, on whether Islamic law will be the fundamental source or only one of the sources of Iraqi law, the Shiite religious parties appear to have won out. AFP reports that the reason for this is that the United States has swung around and begun to support the primacy of Islamic canon law.
"Al-Hayat writes, 'Also, an agreement was reached that Islam is the religion of state, and that no law shall be enacted that contradicts the agreed-upon essential verities of Islam. Likewise, the inviolability of the highest [Shiite] religious authorities in the land is safeguarded, without any allusion to a detailed description. The paragraph governing these matters will specify that Islam is 'the fundamental basis' for legislation, though there will be an allusion to the protection of democratic values, human rights, and social and national values. A Higher Council will be formed to review new legislation to ensure it does not contravene the essential verities of the Islamic religion.' Personal status law, concerning marriage, divorce, alimony, inheritance, and so forth, will be adjudicated by religious courts in accordance with the religion or sect to which the individual belongs."
And, of course, nobody mentioned it in all these cited reports, but gays and lesbians in particular also have huge reason to be afraid of an Islamic Constitution in Iraq. But Prof. Cole also extensively quotes the text of the Islamic Constitution which U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad godfathered in Afghanistan. It makes for chilling reading, especially as an omen of what Khalilzad is cooking up in Iraq, and you can read it by clicking here.
In a related development, "The Army is planning for the possibility of keeping the current number of soldiers in Iraq Ś well over 100,000 Ś for four more years, the Armyĺs top general," Gen. Peter Schoomaker (left), said on Saturday in an interview with AP.