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Iraq Democracy Watch: Report # 1 on the Situation in Iraq
Rend Rahim Francke
Iraq Democracy Watch: Report # 1 on the Situation in Iraq
This report was written by Rend Rahim Francke, the executive director of the Iraq Foundation, based on a fourth trip to Baghdad, from July 27-August 21, 2003.
1. Positive Developments……………………………………
2. 2. Security
5. Relations between CPA and Iraqis
6. Political life
7. The constitutional process
8. Information and Media
9. The Freedom Index
1. Positive Developments
Some improvements since June are visible. Unemployment is still a severe problem, but despite the slow reconstruction effort, more people have jobs and some salaries have risen, particularly for qualified people seeking work in the private sector. Shops are open and are overflowing with goods imported from neighboring countries. A few foreign entrepreneurs (particularly from Jordan, Lebanon, and the Gulf countries) have braved the security challenge and arrived in Iraq seeking business opportunities. There were many more NGOs in August, but the bombing of the UN Headquarters on August 19 reversed the trend. Hotels are bustling, and interpreters, car drivers and other services to foreigners are doing well. Although the pace of reconstruction is still slow, more Iraqis are involved in the reconstruction effort, as skilled and semi-skilled workers. However, while there is a rise in consumption, the Iraqi economy is not yet in production mode.
There are more Iraqi policemen on the streets, keeping traffic moving, guarding buildings, and occasionally enforcing the law. According to the CPA, there are now some 55,000 Iraqis enrolled in the police force and other law-enforcement services across Iraq, but in Baghdad they have only just become visible. Citizens in Baghdad delight in the occasional story about police apprehending criminals. A police raid on Battawiyin, a lawless district in the center of Baghdad which netted over 200 arrests, was greeted warmly by the population. Such incidents of law enforcements are few in comparison with the wave of crime engulfing the city, but they are nevertheless significant and build confidence.
The 9 district councils of Baghdad, which together form the City Council, meet regularly, and at a recent meeting attended by the writer, appeared to work harmoniously. To the credit of the CPA civilians who work with the City Council, the degree of transparency and cooperation in the work of the Council is impressive. For example, meetings are open to the public, and at a recent meeting the Council’s financial information was distributed to all attendees and discussed publicly. The local councils have proved effective, but they only have advisory capacity and little decision-making or executive power. but to maintain the momentum, their role should become more substantive and they ought to be given authority to run their districts beyond their current advisory capacity.
The appointment by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) of an Iraqi Governing Council (GC) in mid-July, and the appointment of a cabinet in September, both long overdue, were important steps forward. Even before the war, Iraqis had urged the U.S. administration to form an Iraqi government immediately following the overthrow of Saddam’s regime. By June, 2 months following the collapse of the regime, Iraqis were impatient for an Iraqi political and executive structure to emerge. The composition of the GC has been criticized by many for all kinds of reasons, fairly or unfairly; nevertheless, Iraqis are prepared to give the GC the benefit of the doubt for the time being and judge it by its policies and accomplishments.
Finally, the situation in the provinces is better than in Baghdad. There is a greater degree of security, (notwithstanding the explosion at the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf in September) crime is lower, and services, including electricity, are more available. The local governing councils, after some early hurdles, are functioning smoothly and with a commendable degree of responsibility. Self-government, long advocated for Iraq, appears to be working well when put into practice.
As early as April, at the political meetings held in Nasiriya and Baghdad, Iraqis repeatedly cited security as the number one problem, and urged measures to ensure law and order and personal safety. Yet manifestations of lawlessness in Iraq were ignored and went unpunished from the fall of Baghdad in April, when looting was allowed to take place under the noses of the occupation force. Later, the increase in violence and civilian crimes in June was not addressed squarely and forcefully. Security was further exacerbated in May with the decision to dismantle, wholesale and indiscriminately, the Iraqi army and police, leaving Iraq with no law enforcement infrastructure, while at the same time doing little to enlist Iraqis in a new security framework.
Compared to the situation in June, security at all levels is far worse. In addition to attacks on Coalition troops, acts of sabotage against installations, and crimes against Iraqis, spectacular acts of terrorism spread in August. Suspicions of cooperation among Ba’thists, Iraqi salafis, and external radical Islamist forces are legitimate. The salafi movement in Iraq has been growing since the mid-eighties. In order to counter Iran's claim that it was fighting an "infidel" and "apostate" Iraqi regime, Saddam Hussein promoted Muslim symbols and slogans, encouraged religiosity, and turned a blind eye to the incursion of salafi culture within Iraq. The “Faith Campaign” launched by SH in the 90s fostered the growth of the movement. By the late years of the decade, the overlap between the Ba’th and Islamism at the grass roots level was commonplace. Thus there are Iraqis who: a) are fanatics motivated by religious zeal, b) have lost the political and economic favorable status they enjoyed under the Ba’th, c) fear the change of political order and see the empowerment of the Shi’a as a threat, and d) as a consequence, regard the US as the agent of their adversity and thus the primary enemy. Joint action between Iraqis of such profile and groups like Ansar Al-Islam, Qaeda, or similar mixes of domestic/foreign organizations would be natural, and may account for the increasingly sophisticated acts of terrorism and the attacks on US troops and on Iraqi civilians and installations. Iraqis recognize that acts of terrorism are intended to make America fail in its mission and to intimidate Iraqis working with the U.S.
Personal safety is poor, and lawlessness is widespread. Car-jackings are rampant, and occasionally car owners are killed. Armed robbery is frequent on Baghdad streets, and many homes have been looted. Entire neighborhoods in downtown Baghdad (including some near major hotels) are too dangerous for cars from early afternoon on. In these neighborhoods, stores close by 4 p.m. and the areas look deserted and derelict. It is too dangerous to drive across the city after 9 p.m., even though the curfew starts at 11. There have been cases of extortion and attempted blackmail. In cases known to the writer, a family was threatened with the abduction of their son if they did not pay a ransom; in another case, the family had to pay a ransom or risk having their house blown up. There are also reported kidnappings of both men and women for ransom. Revenge killings and settling of scores, noticeably absent in the first two months after liberation, are on the rise, especially in Basra and the south. Youth are forming gangs, and the sale and use of drugs and alcohol by street children is a rising problem discussed openly in the Iraqi press.
The population looks to the Coalition to provide safety and security. The lack of personal safety and the acts of terrorism that directly affect people’s lives (destroying oil pipes, water pipes, etc.) have sapped the morale of ordinary citizens. There are statistics for Coalition and other foreigners killed and injured in Iraq, but there are none for Iraqis, though the number is likely to be in the thousands. While guarded optimism was still the overriding sentiment in June, in August Iraqis from all walks of life expressed pessimism about their personal future and the future of the country. People have reverted to cynicism and distrust of US motives or anger and derision at US incompetence. Increasing numbers of Iraqis feel the US has lurched from one blunder to the next, and has lost control. And as the situation deteriorates, relations between US troops and Iraqis get worse: Iraqis are angry and frustrated with the Americans; the feeling is usually reciprocated.
It is impossible for U.S. troops alone to reverse this downward spiral. As Iraqis have advocated for many months, only Iraqis have both the manpower, the and the insight into society that are needed to maintain order. As violence escalates and extends its reach to all regions and interests, this process of mobilizing Iraqis must be undertaken quickly, and not in the slow incremental manner adopted so far. Ambassador Bremer indicated that the formation of an Iraqi police force will be completed by December 2004. This is untenable: as the three tragic bombings in August demonstrates, terrorists and saboteurs aren't waiting, and solutions are needed now.
Saddam’s iron-tight security organizations were controlled through a political authority. Similarly, a viable security framework in Iraq must be underpinned by an Iraqi political structure. With the appointment of a Governing Council and ministers, a political structure is beginning to take shape, but is far from perfect. Although the Governing Council has formed a security subcommittee, the subcommittee has too little regional reach and representative authority to provide the political underpinnings for security. Meanwhile, Iraq now has numerous local governing bodies that have a vested interest in maintaining security and stability in the country, if only to validate their roles and their cooperation with the U.S. Indeed security is better in the governorates, where local councils have recruited their own local police force. After the increasing terrorist attacks of August, many sectors of society have come to regard the provision of security as their political safeguard, including the religious authorities of both Sunnis and Shi’a.
The U.S. has belatedly come to recognize that it must rely more on Iraqi forces, and has begun to enlist men at a faster pace in police, civil defense and regular armed forces. The U.S. faces several practical problems: how to recruit quickly, how to vet recruits to ensure their commitment to the new order, how to train these large numbers in weeks, not months. A further problem remains the political legitimization of this security structure. Will Iraqi’s fledgling political institutions—the GC, the ministry of interior, the security subcommittee-- be involved in the creation or supervision of these three forces? And how will this involvement be exercised? In the absence of a ministry of defense, who will be responsible for the civil defense units and the army units? Currently, only a ministry of interior affairs exists, and it is not clear how far its jurisdiction extends. Finally, what role will the governorates play in their own security arrangements, and how will they share responsibility, if at all, with the GC and the interior ministry?
Because of the imperfect nature of the political arrangements now in Iraq, a security structure has to have broad national endorsement. In the absence of a ministry of defense and of an elected parliament or government to oversee security affairs, a broader national security council is needed, that can harness the representative authority of the regions and the expertise of Iraqis versed in military and security issues. A national security council should include the security subcommittee formed by the GC, the newly formed interior ministry, and representatives from the regional councils in the governorates, and should work in collaboration with Coalition representatives. The council would provide: 1) the political authority for a security structure, 2) policies for security, and 3) mechanisms to rapidly enhance participation of Iraqis in security procedures and 4) oversight and monitoring of the security organizations. In effect, the national security council will have the highest jurisdiction over security matters in Iraq.
The mechanics of mobilizing Iraqis rapidly can be improved in a number of ways: 1) raising a core group of trainers selected and vetted by the political groups represented in the GC to assist Coalition training teams, 2) raising local civil defense within each governorate, who are selected and vetted by the local council, 3) vetting and re-enlisting the lower ranks of the disbanded Iraqi army into a national guard system.
The availability of services is tied to security and the availability of funds. The most pressing issues are electricity, clean drinking water, particularly in the south, fuel for domestic consumption, telephone services, and law enforcement. But security alone cannot explain the breakdown of these services. In many cases, money, planning and rapid execution of projects can improve the situation. For example, power generation for civilian, non-industrial use can be significantly improved by the wholesale import of large generators. In some cities, notably Mosul, private companies have imported large generators that provide service to residential neighborhoods for a fee. This becomes an issue of money, rather than security. Clean drinking water in the south, notably in Basra, is dependent more on infrastructure work rather than security.
A contributing factor to the breakdown of services has been the absence, for the 5 months since the collapse of Saddam’s regime, of ministers and functioning ministries. The coalition chose to constitute the political council first, and delegating to it the task of appointing ministers and senior civil servants. As a result, no one has been in charge, and the reconstruction of the civil administration of the country has been slow and halting. In fact, ministry building, severely damaged during the war or in the subsequent burning and looting, stand unusable and empty. Thos ministry employees who occasionally report to work have no building to go to. While the CPA has tried to run the civil affairs of Iraq, the Iraqi civil administration has been dysfunctional.
The appointment of ministers this week by the GC should improve the situation. However, the ministers can do little if they have inadequate budgets, manpower and authority. The first priority for improving services to the population is to provide financial resources to the ministries. The ministers are political appointees, and while many have professional expertise and/or academic credentials, few have administrative and managerial experience in Iraq. The management and administrative needs of executive work has to be addressed very rapidly for any actual improvements to happen.
The re-activation of the Interior Ministry (disbanded in May, along with the Defense Ministry) should contribute to the improvement of law enforcement. To date, the Iraqi police force has been too small and has not been given the tools and the authority to carry out its functions. Citizens do not believe that the police can do anything to help them. For example, cases of house burglary are not reported to the police, because there is a justifiable belief that they can do nothing. The operations of the courts of law are either non-existent or extremely limited. In the highly unlikely event that burglars or car-jackers are caught, they are likely to be released either because the police can do nothing with them, or because the police will accept bribes. Intimidation of police has also posed a serious disincentive to law enforcement.
4. The Economy, Jobs and Wages
There are clear signs that more cash has been injected into the economy since June. Shops offer more goods and more varieties, food is abundant, more cars are being imported and purchased, hotels are full, and more people have jobs, at better salaries, than in June. Nevertheless, these are signs of consumerism, not production, and other than consumer purchases, the economy is stagnant. As with everything else, the stalling of the economy is directly attributable to the absence of security and shortage of funds. Some regional entrepreneurs (from Lebanon, Jordan, the Gulf states) have come to Iraq to seek opportunities, but major foreign companies have refused to do business in Iraq because of the dangers of lawlessness and terrorism.
Meanwhile, Iraqis had high expectations in May and June, and are now restive in the face of repeated disappointments. Few Iraqis are aware that the country is bankrupt. Government employees, university professors, retirees, expect high wages and complain that their salaries do not keep up with rapid inflation. Most people think that Iraq has cash reserves in the billions from pre-war oil sales; they do not understand the lack of expenditure on the oil sector or on electrical power. The CPA and available Iraqi media have failed to explain to the public the absence of financial resources, or the fact that much of the money already spent in Iraq comes from the $ 2.4 billion allocated by the U.S. Congress. Joblessness is so acute that a Union of the Unemployed has been formed, and counts 62,000 active members in Baghdad alone. A contingent is seen daily, demonstrating in a square near the Presidential Palace that serves as the HQ of the CPA, despite the burning sun and temperatures of 120 degrees.
Even for those Iraqis who are receiving wages or pensions, the process is humiliating and exhausting. In Baghdad, members of the dissolved Iraqi army must line up from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. at the abandoned, unsheltered site of the old Muthanna airport. On consecutive days, the line was 1/5th of a mile long. Elderly women must line up for hours at defunct ministries to collect their pensions. Iraqis find such disregard demeaning.
While the CPA, the U.S. military, Bechtel and KBR have put out subcontracts for their reconstruction projects, there is wide-spread criticism of the process through which subcontracting has taken place and the companies selected. This process is viewed as opaque, secretive and skewed in favor of a patronage system. There are charges of nepotism and corruption. Information is not disseminated or readily available. Most Iraqi subcontractors have no idea how to find out about projects and subcontracts, and the perception is that this is deliberate, allowing the CPA and its principal contractors to conclude deals behind closed doors with a select few. Many complain that transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of the democracy that the U.S. claims to bring to Iraq, yet the CPA’s own methods of allocating privileges and contracts is neither transparent nor accountable.
Another rising criticism concerns the Iraqi companies that have won or are poised to win subcontracts from Bechtel, KBR and the CPA. This handful of businesses, variously called “Ba’th capitalists” or “sanctions profiteers”, is the same that went into partnership with members of Saddam’s regime in the 80s and 90s, and enriched themselves by pandering to the regime’s whims and dictates. Their marble-clad mansions, built in the 1990s, stand out in stark contrast to the general dereliction of even the most upscale neighborhoods in Baghdad. In particular, while other long-standing businesses and companies collapsed in the 1990s because of double toll of the Iran-Iraq war and sanctions, some companies, in partnership with or fronting for senior officials, thrived by trading under the oil for food program. Thus they managed to corner the markets and build their financial assets, capital equipment, and business capacities, and are posed to benefit again from American contacts and contracts. An aggravating factor is that these companies are almost all Sunni-owned, in keeping with Saddam’s policy of empowering the Sunnis at the expense of the Shi’a.
With large-scale and rapid privatization on the CPA agenda, Iraqis fear that the only groups who will have the financial resources to take advantage of privatization will be those who collaborated with the old regime and accumulated capital in the 1990s. They will be able to “buy up Iraq”. Iraqis further fear the political consequences of concentration of economic clout: if capital and financial resources continue to accumulate in the hands of these few groups, they will be able to exert political power and materially affect forthcoming elections and the political fortunes of Iraq.
Many Iraqis have proposed a vetting system for companies similar to the vetting of old regime officials. In this “economic de-Ba’thification” process, businessmen and companies should be asked how they made their money, how they managed to thrive in the 90s, why they obtained so much preferential treatment from Saddam’s regime, and who their partners were. Many people regard these prosperous companies as war profiteers, who should be punished rather than rewarded.
5. Relations between CPA and Iraqis
The term “occupation”, ugly as it sounds to Iraqis, aptly describes the relationship between Iraqis and Americans- despite the fact that US forces came to Iraq as liberators not as conquerors. There is a very palpable sense of power residing with the Americans, and powerlessness among Iraqis.
It is useful to remember that the U.S. presence in Iraq is divided between the military and the civilians. The civilians proper (as opposed to the military units that are assigned to civilian affairs rather than to security) number less than 1,000. Iraqis only see the military face of the occupation, in the shape of military patrols, tanks, APCs, check points, or those military personnel (dressed in military uniforms) who work with local councils and carry out other civilian-related duties. Military treatment of Iraqi varies. On the whole, it remains professionally correct. However, there are many reports of rough manhandling, recklessly ransacked houses, broken and destroyed property, and even reports of theft of cash. One incident witnessed first hand by the writer was a clear case of over-reaction. An Iraqi journalist (possibly an Iraqi-American) was attempting to cover a press conference, but had arrived late. As he tried to argue his case for entry into the conference hall, he was surrounded by half a dozen troops and was forcibly thrown to the floor and pinned down. As the soldiers held him, his arms were pulled behind his back and manacled. He was then force-marched from the scene, all the while protesting that he was a journalist and as such had a right to cover the conference. The incident, witnessed by many in the hall, created ill-feeling among other Iraqi journalists that was barely disguised.
The vast majority of Iraqis, while uncomfortable at the sight of US troops, are resigned to the fact of their presence and content to leave them alone—and the feeling was reciprocated by American troops. However, the attacks on US forces have understandably necessitated greater caution among U.S. troops and reduced their level of tolerance. As a result, even Iraqis who are neutral now endure greater restrictions and suspicions. This creates a negative cycle of resentment and hostility. The fact that the primary task of the US military is, or has become, self-protection, leads to unfortunate situations. The writer witnessed the body of a wounded dead man on a major street in Baghdad near a US tank and troops, with a crowd of Iraqis gathering on the opposite side of the road, and no evidence that the troops were doing anything to protect or remove the body. It was a dangerous situation that could ignite confrontations.
On the other hand, American civilians are barely visible to ordinary Iraqis. They are stretched thin and severely overworked. Their numbers small, and they are inaccessibly cloistered in the Republican Palace or the adjacent Conference Center. American civilians rarely venture out into the city, and with worsening security conditions, they are increasingly restricted in their movements. It is virtually impossible for an Iraqi to approach the Palace unless they are among the privileged few who are employed by the CPA. Access to the Conference Center is difficult, tedious and selective, and in any case requires long waits in the sun and multiple searches. It is not a pleasant experience, even for an Iraqi coming for an appointment with an American official at the Center. Most Iraqis avoid the humiliation of trying to gain access to either of these fortresses.
Thus most Iraqis only see the authoritarian and often punitive face of the American occupation. Few see the civil and humanist side, which remains aloof and inaccessible. The Iraqi image of Americans is shaped by what they see on the streets. Nonetheless, there is a wide-spread acknowledgment that Iraq is now wholly dependent for its stability on the presence of US troops, and many Iraqis are convinced that absent American forces, Iraq would descend into civil war.
Anti-American groups find it easy to capitalize on the frustrations of people. There is now a rife market in patriotism, and an undercurrent of intimidation of anyone not deemed patriotic enough. Of course, patriotism is measured by anti-Americanism. Even a cleric like Muqtada Al-Sadr, whose platform is Shi’ism and religion, chooses to attack other clerics and Islamists not on their lack of piety or doctrinal rigor, but on their collaboration with the “enemy” against the patriotic interests of Iraq. Understandably, this creates a climate of intense psychological pressure on Iraqis who are disposed to cooperate with the U.S.
One of the serious problems undermining US-Iraqi relations is the absence of information reaching the Iraqi public about CPA policies, objectives and activities. Iraqis live in the dark. Rumor and urban myths replace facts. For example, the US has not explained why electrical power is in short supply, and in fact has deteriorated significantly in Baghdad since June. Iraqis argue that, after all, prior to the war, telephones worked, electricity was more, rather than less, available, and fuel was also more plentiful and cheaper. The CPA has failed to address these and similar issues in a systematic public way, such that the reasons are at least clear (even if not acceptable) to Iraqi citizens. As mentioned above, most Iraqis also believe that Iraq is awash with money; they do not realize that Iraq is virtually a bankrupt nation. The CPA has failed woefully in its public information campaign.
6. Political Life
The stated policy of the US is to promote the building of democracy in Iraq, and the appointment of the Governing Council (GC) in July was seen as a first step in that direction.
However, when the CPA appointed the GC, it promoted a blueprint for sectarian and ethnic proportional representation, rather than political representation. Thus the Shi’a hold 50% +1, with 13 out of 25 representatives; Sunni Arabs and Kurds have 20%, or 5 representatives each; leaving one each for the Christians and Turkoman. This creates interesting anomalies, such as the inclusion of a communist leader in the ranks of the Shi’a. This ethnic and religious distribution was first promoted at the INC meeting in Salaheddin in 1992, and despite calls to base Iraqi representation on political affiliation, the ethnic and sectarian distribution persisted. When the CPA appointed the GC, it endorsed and confirmed this feature of the political process. The ethnic and sectarian division is replicated in the composition of the ministries and the preparatory committee for the constitution, and will undoubtedly spread to the lowliest ranks of government.
At a more dangerous level, a quota system based on sect and ethnicity undermines the hope of forging a common Iraqi citizenship by stressing communitarian identity and allegiance at the expense of Iraqi identity. During his 35-year rule, and particularly since the 1980s, Saddam succeeded in fragmenting Iraqi society into its component identities, and alternating repression of the various communities. Thus Iraqis fell back on their primary allegiances: their sect, ethnicity, tribe, city. Now, this system is being perpetuated, and anyone who wishes to be involved in the political process must first advertise an ethnic, sectarian or at least tribal identity, and play the ethnic and sectarian card. Proclaiming one’s “Iraqiness” is no longer sufficeint: one has to “declare” for a communal identity. This puts Iraq well on the road to Lebanonization, a prospect (allegedly condemned by Iraqi politicians) that carries with it the seeds for frave future dangers in Iraq. Indeed, sectarian and ethnic friction is already latent in the GC, particularly in relation to the contentious issue of the relationship between religion and state. The Sunnis in the GC are accused of championing separation of mosque and state for their own, sectarian ulterior motives.
In order to replicate the quota system adopted in the formation of the GC, the number of ministries was increased to 25. This also allowed each member of the GC to appoint one loyalist to a cabinet position. There has been criticism of cronyism in the appointment of ministers, and in fact some ministers have family connections to members of the GC. Of the 25 ministries, 4 were designated as “sovereign”: interior, foreign affairs, oil and finance. Two of these were allocated to the Shi’a, one to Kurds and one to Sunnis. Therefore if, for example, a Christian were found to be the most qualified candidate for the ministry of finance (one of the “sovereign” ministries), it would be impossible to appoint him. (This stands in stark and ironic contrast to the first cabinet in Iraq in the early 1920s, when the first finance minister was an Iraqi Jew). There was much haggling over who in the GC gets which ministry, and while bargaining and compromises are part and parcel of democracy, this was bargaining over ethnic and sectarian allotments and power.
Similarly, the preparatory committee for the constituent assembly is also composed of 25 Iraqis (all men) appointed by the GC, and duplicates its ethnic and sectarian division. Given that the constitutional process and the constitution itself will be the matrix for Iraq’s future political development and direction, the composition of bodies that deal with the constitution is even more critical than the composition of the ministries. The sectarian and ethnic basis of the political process in Iraq and the prevalence of a clientage system are contrary to the establishment of democracy in Iraq based on a common and equal Iraqi citizenship. As in Lebanon, it paves the way for future friction and the interference of external influences, two dangers that a still vulnerable Iraq is ill-equipped to face. The constitutional process that is taking shape is likely to entrench the flawed nature of this political process. Unless this tendency is countered by the emergence of national, recognizable political parties, particularly from the democratic center, the prospects for a true democracy are limited.
Since April, some 70 new political groups have been formed in Iraq, in addition to the political groups that were formed in exile prior to the fall of the Saddam regime (SCIRI, INC, etc.). However, the political scene in Iraq is hobbled by a number of drawbacks. To begin with, political party formation, even for the older groups (a declared political program, strategy, constituency, leadership elections, etc.) is still an unrealized project. With few exceptions, political parties are no more than groups of loyalists clustered around a leadership figure, with no real organizational structure. Given the prospect of elections taking place in a year or less, the absence of organized parties will be an obstacle to the creation of democratic political life
Second, the only Arab political groups that have the requisite organizing and mobilizing capacities are the Islamists and the neo-Ba’th. Only these have the institutional capacity, the networks (through mosques and clerics in the one case, through cells and old party cadres in the other) and the hierarchical command systems (clerics, cell leaders), to forge political messages, reach supporters, mobilize and energize citizens. In addition, these two sectors appear to have ample funding for operation, and can rely on external support. By contrast, the democratic center, which can probably appeal to the majority of the population, simply does not have the institutions or the organizational capacity to mobilize masses. It has not come together as a social and political force, and has failed to articulate and publicize a clear vision for the future. Again, in view of imminent elections, the democratic center will find it hard to compete with the Islamists and the neo-Ba’th, and risks being over-run by these better organized and funded groups.
The participation of women in politics has been meager. The Governing Council has only 3 women out of 25, or fewer that 15%. There is only one woman minister (who has served as minister of public works in the Erbil government) in the newly appointed cabinet. And there are no women in the preparatory committee for the constitution. In a country where women probably form 60% of the population, and where women have been earning university degrees and joining the workforce since the 1940s, this is a huge set back. Although many women’s organizations have been formed, they have not yet gained any leverage in the political or social arenas. Again, with elections planned in the near future, women have no organizational capability to run election campaigns and compete for office. If they are appointed to any positions at all, it will have to be by a dispensation from male politicians.
In spite of the stated US policy to promote the building of democracy in Iraq, only trifling amounts of money have been allocated and spent to foster democratization. Very little funds have been given to strengthen Iraqi NGOs and civil society institution, and none to building monitoring and reporting groups that are essential to the promotion of good governance, the protection of rights. No money whatsoever has been allocated to democracy education and civic education, at a time when people are expected to vote for a constitution in a referendum. In any new allocation of funds for Iraq, large sums must be devoted to programs that build democracy both at the institutional and grass roots levels.
7. The Constitutional Process
The writing of a new Iraqi constitution is, next to restoring security, the most crucial endeavor Iraqis will face in the coming months, and will lay the foundation for a new Iraqi political and social order. Yet this undertaking is already beset with the same problems that have already emerged in the political process so far.
Ayatollah Sistani, the chief Shi’a marji’, has called for elections to form a constituent assembly to write the constitution. GC members, including the Islamist, recognize this as currently impractical, and have tried to deflect or “interpret” this recommendation by appointing a Preparatory Committee to recommend a mechanism for selecting the constituent assembly. At this point, the GC, and by extension its appointed preparatory committee, is pulled by contradictory interests on the issue of electing a constituent assembly. On the one hand, elections will prolong the process, allowing the GC to prolong its tenure and consolidate its position in power—but also perhaps exposing its weaknesses. On the other hand, the GC wishes to win over public opinion by speeding the process of creating an elected government, declaring a return to sovereignty, and ending occupation. It will be interesting to see the balance that the GC strikes between these competing interests.
How will the constituent assembly be chosen, what are its prerogatives, and who will actually draft the constitution? These are still pending questions, but given the formulas set down with the creation of the GC, the assembly is likely to follow suit, as did the cabinet. The composition of the constituent assembly and the drafting committee will determine crucial issues for the future of democracy in Iraq. It will decide the system of government, the nature of representation, the definition and rights of citizenship, civil rights and the limits of government authority, the authorities of regional bodies, the rights and limits of freedom of speech, and so on.
The two most important and controversial issues that the constituent assembly will address are the relationship between state and religion and federalism. On the question of the role of religion, the debate will be between those who would like to see a strong role for religion, and shari’a laws in particular, in determining legislation and ordering the affairs of society, and those who want to keep the state out of religious affairs. On federalism, the debate will be between Kurds who wish to see federalism based on ethnic identity, and others who want federalism or devolution based on territorial units. It is conceivable that, to avoid a possible deadlock, a deal may be struck between the hardliners on both sides: an offer for an ethnically-based federation between Arabs and Kurds, in return for strong religious input into the affairs of the Arab part of the federation. A third contentious issue may be the proposal to establish an ethnic/sectarian quota system for government, following the precedent set in the formation of the GC and the ministries. In any event, to the extent that the political arrangements thus far have been determined by powerful forces on the GC, these forces will also powerfully influence the outcome of the constitutional process and the shape of a new constitution.
8. Public Information and Media
Public information is in short supply in Iraq, and the media is under-utilized. As a result, most Iraqis live in the dark. They feed on rumor and urban myths. With the proliferation of satellites, people turn to Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, Abu-Dhabi, and Al-Aalam (an Arabic-speaking Iranian TV station)—for news on Iraq.
Information from the CPA is limited, to say the least. Iraqis have no knowledge—or understanding—of the activities, the policies, the achievements or the challenges facing the CPA or the Governing Council. People in one city have no idea what goes on in other towns and cities in Iraq. Rules and regulations that affect people’s lives are not broadly publicized, resulting in general confusion. Very few Iraqis are aware how little money Iraq has. Many believe that Iraq’s frozen assets in the US are enormous, and only need to be released by the U.S. government. Information on the distribution of salaries and pensions is also scarce, even for those concerned. There is no information on why Baghdad is short of electricity, and some Baghdadis believe that they are being punished by the Coalition.
To counter this dangerous lack of information, a group of Iraqi professionals suggested in June that the CPA hold daily press briefings at a pre-determined time, to give a summary of the day’s significant events and answer questions. It was further suggested that these press briefings be broadcast on the only Iraqi TV station, Iraqi Media Network (IMN). These daily televised briefings would have a guaranteed audience of 24 million Iraqis.
Nor has the GC done a better job at providing information to the public. The GC has failed to provide timely and accurate information on its activities and deliberations to a public that is eager to know. Neither the CPA nor the GC has given out information on Iraq’s oil production and revenue, reconstruction activities, economic policies, or other relevant information that the Iraqi public has a right to be informed on. In an environment of anxious expectations and sorry disappointments, the need for communication and honest information is enormous; maintaining a flow of communication is an essential factor in building trust and gaining support from the population.
Much has been already reported about the failure of the IMN TV station and the two associated radio stations to live up to the needs of the country. The good news is that, so far, IMN is not controlled by the GC or any ministry. However, the GC has been seeking oversight responsibility over IMN.
While both TV and radio have improved since June, they remain content-poor. At a time when the country is going through political, social and economic upheaval, when people need information, discussion, and comprehension, much TV time is devoted to third rate entertainment, including old Arabic sitcoms and poor quality music videos. One of the reasons is the chronic shortage of funds for IMN, which has to struggle with insufficient and old equipment, and the shortage of qualified personnel. However, the problem is not uniquely financial or technical. IMN programming merely fills time with whatever is at hand. The IMN lacks a coherent mission and focus, and has no guiding strategy. The fact that it is not government controlled does not mean that it should have no political or social goals. Whether the model is the BBC, PBS or commercial television, the station must be guided by a philosophy and have a strategy for achieving its goals. In the current climate in Iraq, a minimum goal may be to inform as exhaustively as possible and to promote public awareness.
For IMN to achieve even this limited goal, it requires not merely technical resources and technical expertise, but also intellectual leadership that can shape a mission and lay down a strategy. At the very least, IMN needs an independent board of governors to lay down goals and strategies commensurate with the needs of the country, and a strong leadership to translate them into content-rich programming.
9. The Freedom Index
In general , the “freedom index” is relatively high. In August, 167 newspapers and magazines were being published in Iraq (against 30 in June), and there are more than 70 political parties, some with only a handful of members, expressing a wide range of political views (or none at all). Many women’s groups and dozens of NGOs have been formed, including human rights groups that investigate the crimes of Saddam’s regime. Old professional associations have held elections, and new associations have sprung up, covering every conceivable profession and special interest. In some cases, there is a multiplicity of organizations concerned with one issue. People can demonstrate freely and do so often, especially to protest against the CPA. Freedom of worship is unhampered.
The printed press enjoys unprecedented freedom, but has been generally restrained in its rhetoric. For now, press freedom may be attributed to the absence of government, and therefore to the absence of regulatory restrictions. The one television station and two radio stations are not under the jurisdiction of the Governing council. While there is no ministry of information, it is too soon to guess whether any restrictions will be placed on the media.
In contrast, the outlook for personal freedoms is not as bright, particularly for women. As cited, the political participation of women has been negligible. There is strong pressure on women to wear the hijab. One university campus graffiti declared that “An unveiled woman is a debauched woman”. While this does not force any female student to wear the veil, it creates an environment of intimidation and fear. The kidnappings of young women and cases of rape have severely restricted freedom of movement for women, and girls are often prohibited from going anywhere without a male escort. In Basra, traditionally an open and pluralist society, religious pressure is such that no woman can go out without the hijab, including Christian women. A proposal to ban female students from courses in physical education at universities has fortunately been defeated, and segregated PE classes will be offered.
Religious zealots have imposed other restrictions. Attacks on Christian-owned shops that sell alcohol are common, and some have been burned down. Some groups have also distributed leaflets against shopkeepers who sell CDs and videos, and ordered a ban on the sale of any but religious recordings. The Mandaeans, a religious minority that has lived peacefully in southern Iraq since ancient times, has also been vilified and condemned as satanic. Such intimidation and threats pose a serious threat to individual liberties, and in the absence of protective laws or consequences, they are likely to escalate.
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