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3/12/04 - DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ - 2004-03-15

The new Transitional Administrative Law, Iraq’s interim constitution, is a victory for the people of Iraq. “This document is an important step toward the establishment of a sovereign government on June 30th, says President George W. Bush. “It lays the foundation for democratic elections and for a new constitution, which will be written by an elected Iraqi assembly and approved by the Iraqi people”:

“The law will protect the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly, the right to organize political parties, the right to vote in fair elections, and the right to worship according to one’s own conscience. The law also will guarantee the right to a speedy, fair, and open trial. No Iraqi will ever again have to fear the midnight knock of the secret police.”

The interim constitution was approved after a spirited debate, followed by compromise among Shite members of the Iraqi Governing Council. At issue was a provision that a permanent constitution would not go into effect if a two-thirds majority in any three of Iraq’s eighteen provinces votes against it. Three of Iraq’s northern provinces are home to Iraqi Kurds.

Adel Abdel Mehdi is a leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. He says that Shiites signed the document “in the name of national unity.” Massoud Barzani, a Kurdish member of the Governing Council, said the interim constitution “will strengthen Iraqi unity in a way never seen before. . . . This is the first time that we Kurds feel that we are citizens of Iraq.”

Ahmad al-Rubi, writing in the Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, said, “The enemies of Iraq rejoiced at the disputes that surfaced among Governing Council members...but their joy was short-lived, as they saw the Shiites acting in a balanced and responsible way, giving priority to the interests of Iraq as a nation and putting national unity at the forefront of their concerns, in response to a similar move by the Kurds.”

Paul Bremer, administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, called the debate over Iraq’s interim constitution an example of democracy in action.