A fraught but worthy mission (BOB RAE, 11/28/05, Toronto Star)

The decision by the U.S./U.K.-led coalition to invade Iraq in the spring of 2003 had several consequences. One was the ouster and eventual capture of Saddam Hussein. Another was the unleashing of forces that the brutality of the dictatorship had kept under firm control for generations: a religious Shiite movement, largely in the south, which seeks to see more traditional values enshrined and protected in the constitution; and a movement of people who had been unable to express themselves for decades and who want a liberal, secular democracy, with groups advocating women’s rights, greater academic freedom, environmental protection, the protection of minorities, and the modernization of the Iraqi economy.

The Kurds were strong supporters of the invasion because it meant that their oppressor would finally be brought to book, and it could ultimately provide a protected constitutional status within a federal Iraq.

The decision to disband the Iraqi army and police and prohibit members of the Ba’athist regime from participating in civic life had far greater effect than was realized at the time, with two major consequences: first, a vacuum in the maintenance of civil order, which left foreign armies to assume basic police responsibilities; and second, a large and idle army of the downwardly mobile and disaffected.

A huge portion of the public sector lost their jobs, their vocation, and their pensions. They were, for the most part, Sunni, and now form an important base for the domestic insurgency that has engulfed Iraq since President GeorgeBush’s declaration of an end to major combat operations two years ago.

To this maelstrom add the terrorism of the Osama bin Laden surrogates, led in Iraq by Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who has used the vacuum of civil order in Iraq as a breeding and recruiting ground; neighbouring countries, each with a different stake in Iraq’s continuing failure and weakness, and a tribalism whose full force had been pushed down by Saddam’s army and bureaucracy, but which now has very little to hold it back.

What is remarkable is that given these conditions and the consequent level of violence, some constitutional progress has been made. […]

Federalism, it is said, is essentially a foreign idea, a Western idea. It has no place in an Islamic state.

“Federalism will lead to separatism” is the next argument. It is an imported ideology that will put Iraq in a rigid straightjacket from which it will never emerge. The world, the oil companies, the West, will pick at Iraq’s remains. These arguments must be answered.

The demand for federalism has come from Iraqis themselves. Every federal country is different. There is certainly no single path to federalism. It is an approach, not an ideology.

The evidence would also show that, far from leading to separatism, an effective federalism counteracts those determined to break up a country.

By insisting on one language, one religion, one official identity, it could reasonably be argued that a dominant majority gives a smaller nationality no reason to stay.

It is the abuse of majority power that fuels the secessionist urge, not the dispersal and sharing of power, which is at the core of the federalist idea.

The key is “effective federalism,” which is different from confederation. The central government must have the sovereign capacity to relate to each citizen, to maintain the defence and foreign affairs of the country, and to ensure an economy where goods, services, commerce, and people are mobile.

If Iraq’s regions are feudal fiefdoms, separatism will indeed be built into the constituent parts but not because of federalism. After all, the idea of building a stronger and more perfect union is as important a part of the federal project as is the recognition of the particular nature of different regions.

Just as the myth of the ethnically homogeneous state denies the reality of diversity, the borders and powers of the regions themselves should not be based on notions of ethnic exclusivity.

Assyrians, Turkmen, Aziris and others have expressed strong anxiety that their interests would be lost in some simplistic ethnic carve-up. Given the absence of any strong pattern of protecting the rights of minorities, their concerns are understandable. Modern federal practices have made a consistent point of not allowing provincial or states’ rights to squelch human right

The built-in beauty is that by giving the majority power you allow them to be more tolerant of minorities they needn’t fear and at the same time apply pressure for conformity to those minorities, so that the whole system reinforces stability.

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