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September 6, 2005

UN Official Says US Interfering in Iraq Constitution Process


by Dahr Jamail

U.S. influence in the process of drafting a constitution for Iraq is excessive and "highly inappropriate," a United Nations official says.

"It is a matter of public record that in the final weeks of the process the newly arrived U.S. ambassador [Zalmay Khalilzad] took an extremely hands-on role," Justin Alexander, legal affairs officer for the office of constitutional support with the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) told IPS. "Even going so far as to circulate at least one U.S draft."

Alexander, who oversaw the recent proceedings in Baghdad added: "This involvement was highly inappropriate for a country with 140,000 soldiers in country."

Zaid al-Ali, a legal expert who also oversaw the drafting process in Baghdad, made a similar case at a meeting at the International Association of Contemporary Iraqi Studies in London.

"There are three ways in which the occupation intervened in the context of Iraq's constitution-writing process," he said. "First, the occupation authorities selected and affected the makeup of the commission that was charged with drafting Iraq's transitional law, and its permanent constitution. Second, the occupation determined the limits and parameters within which the constitution was to be drafted. Third, the occupation authorities intervened directly in order to safeguard its interests in the context of the constitutional negotiations."

Al-Ali said it was significant that one article in the draft constitution on foreign military bases was dropped from the final version. "One article contained in a previous draft provided that setting up foreign military bases in Iraq was to be forbidden, and that the only way in which this could be deviated from would have been by a two-thirds majority vote in parliament."

Al-Ali said "this article was dropped from the final draft of the constitution."

An alliance including the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars and the large movement of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said it rejected the draft and a "political process which had been led by occupiers and their collaborators."

The group said in a media statement: "We consider this draft as a next step of this process which does not represent the peoples' will." The alliance also expressed "major suspicions about the honesty of the next referendum, which will take place under occupation and with neither international nor Arabic and Islamic supervision."

Dr. Marinos Diamantides, senior lecturer in law at the University of London, said the entire drafting process could be illegal under international law.

"One could argue the entire process is against the law," Diamantides told IPS. "According to the 1907 Convention [the convention for the pacific settlement of disputes], the occupying power has a duty to maintain the legal system of the country it occupies. This is the first time ever that an occupying power has dismantled the internal law system of the country it occupies."

He also pointed out that ironically the Sunnis now have power to derail the upcoming referendum vote by a two-thirds vote in three provinces. That power was originally intended to give Kurds power to veto the constitution.

When Iraq's Kurdish and Shia dominated parliament recently approved the draft, Sunnis immediately began campaigning for a no vote in the upcoming October referendum. If the draft were to pass the referendum, it would be followed two months later by election for a government.

At least four provinces are predominantly Sunni, and Sunni clerics have urged their followers to reject the draft if it does not meet Sunni demands.

Adding further complexity to the already muddled situation, former UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq during the sanctions Denis Halliday believes that even the United Nations has no place in occupied Iraq.

"The UN doesn't have a position in Iraq today," Halliday told IPS. "Once the invasion took place, the UN became collaborators with the enemy (the United States)."

Halliday, who had resigned from his UN post in protest against "genocidal sanctions" added: "This lesson should have been learned in August, 2003 when our office in Baghdad was blown up, as we were collaborators. The UN has simply become a tool of the U.S., and Iraqis can no longer distinguish between the U.S. and the UN."

Justin Alexander said Iraq might need a new constitution. "If Iraq creates a progressive and effective constitution and laws to implement the constitution, then this could benefit Iraqis. But in the absence of mutual reconciliation and an end to the occupation, this is all futile."

(Inter Press Service)

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    Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Dahr Jamail writes about the effects of the US occupation on the people of Iraq, since the mainstream media in the US has in large part, he believes, failed to do so.

    Dahr has spent a total of 5 months in occupied Iraq, and plans on returning in October to continue reporting on the occupation. One of only a few independent reporters in Iraq, Dahr will be using the DahrJamailIraq.com website and mailing list to disseminate his dispatches and will continue as special correspondent for Flashpoints Radio.

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