Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Baghdad and urged Iraqi lawmakers to meet an Aug. 15 deadline for finishing their constitution. Middle East experts assess the problems the country faces when drafting a new constitution.
MARGARET WARNER: Two dates actually loom for Iraq's constitution writers: That Aug. 15 deadline for completing the draft, and a much earlier one -- next Monday -- to decide whether to ask for a six-month extension instead. So, should Iraq scramble to meet the Aug. 15 date, or would a delay produce a better result?
To explore that, we turn to: Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director for the International Crisis Group, which focuses on alleviating conflicts worldwide -- he's based in Jordan and last visited Iraq in May; and Michael Rubin, who worked on Iraq policy in the Defense Department from 2002 to 2004. He went on to advise the U.S.-led occupation authority in Iraq and was last there in April. He's now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Hiltermann, Mr. Rubin, welcome to you both.
Mr. Rubin, do you think it's essential for Iraq to meet this Aug. 15 deadline?
MICHAEL RUBIN: I think it's absolutely ideal that they do, but the sky won't fall if they don't. Iraqi politics is a lot about brinkmanship so if there is a delay, I'm not sure that that will translate into greater consultations or a more thorough constitutional process because really we know what the issues are. The Iraqis know what the issues are. They mainly center around federalism and religion. And these are going to be decided in the last 48 hours as the groups go into caucus.
MARGARET WARNER: How urgent do you think it is?
JOOST HILTERMANN: I think it's very important that the Iraqi people reach a national compact within the next few months. Whether it be done by the Aug. 15 deadline or not to me is not so important; I think the main thing is that the Iraqis get it right, that the constitution that they end up with is a constitution they can live with and that their descendants can live with.
And I think for that to happen we need to see greater public input and public buy into this process and into the final document. And that so far we haven't seen. So I would say rather than rushing towards this deadline let's look at all the issues and get it right and then if we get past the deadline, that would be something we can live with.
MARGARET WARNER: But are you suggesting that if they push -- and they really have to decide by Monday whether they can make it or not -- that they're in danger of putting something down on paper that really won't be lasting?
JOOST HILTERMANN: Well, the danger is that if they do not call for an extension by Monday and work toward the Aug. 15 deadline that they will put something on paper that is only a skeleton of what ought to be there and that later detail is going to be added through some mechanism through some time down the line.
We don't know when -- when maybe there's no political pressure on any of the communities to do so. And these communities are at the moment heavily divided. They don't have any great pressure to come together anyway. The only thing that unites them now is the pressure to draft this constitution.
MARGARET WARNER: Why do you think, Mr. Rubin, the United States is pressing so hard? When al-Jaafari was here a month ago, Condoleezza Rice and others, it was very clear, had the made the point don't let this deadline slide. We just heard Secretary Rumsfeld very publicly say don't let the deadline slide. Why is the Bush administration pushing so hard?
MICHAEL RUBIN: Well, on one hand again I don't believe there's a belief that a delay will add anything qualitative. Whether that's true or not is irrelevant. There's that belief. Number two: We'd like to see the Iraqis get on with their political process; after the constitution is written there will be a couple months of education and then there will be a national election after the constitutional referendum, but also a lot of U.S. domestic pressure plays into this.
We're talking -- Secretary Rumsfeld was talking about withdrawing some troops in 2006. Well, that's approaching the midterm congressional elections and people are going to be starting to think about the 2008 presidential elections so a lot depends on the domestic debate also in the United States.
MARGARET WARNER: I think you were referring to General Casey, but what he said today he seemed to imply that this was a prerequisite for them any kind of timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.
MICHAEL RUBIN: Correct. But I would also argue that sometimes there's this belief that the insurgency and the constitutional process are linked. Some people would argue that if there's a delay in the constitutional process, it's going to worsen the insurgency. I'm really not sure that there's any evidence that will support that.
Insurgencies can happen in democracies. Insurgencies can happen for any number of reasons and it will be difficult -- and most of the insurgents don't have a political platform. They're not standing for something. People aren't going to say we're frustrated with our politicians so we're going to side with the insurgents instead. And the insurgents aren't doing anything to help ordinary Iraqis; they're not building wells.
MARGARET WARNER: What's your view of that, Mr. Hiltermann, because Zalmay Khalilzad, the new Iraqi ambassador or U.S. ambassador to Iraq said just last month if we have a constitution, see a constitution, we will fundamentally undermine the insurgency. Do you think there's a connection between getting a handle on the insurgency and getting a constitution and a new government in position?
JOOST HILTERMANN: Well, I think that the insurgency is going to be with us for a long time, possibly ten years. At the same time there is no way to defeat the insurgency by military means alone. We need to have a legitimate political process, a legitimate government in power, one that is elected in elections in which all Iraqis participate and one community, the Sunni Arabs, do not absent themselves like they did last time.
And that will only happen if they come together around the issue of the constitution so in that sense, yes, these issues are linked. But it's not that when we have a constitution and maybe we have new elections then suddenly we see a dip in the insurgency, I doubt it very much.
MARGARET WARNER: So what are -- what do you think are the toughest sticking points? I mean the ones that are mentioned all the time are the role of Islam, the rights of women, and the degree of autonomy that's given to the different ethnic regions of the country, which one do you think has the potential for being a deal breaker?
JOOST HILTERMANN: Well, the most difficult issue without any shadow of a doubt is the question of federalism and how much power the regions are going to get. In this case we're talking about the Kurdistan region and possibly the rest of Iraq or possibly other regions within the rest of Iraq. That hasn't been decided yet either. We're talking about division of powers, distribution of oil wealth, for example --
MARGARET WARNER: Because the Kurdish regions have oil.
JOOST HILTERMANN: -- that's right.
MARGARET WARNER: The Shiite regions have oil and the Sunni area does not.
JOOST HILTERMANN: Not for the moment. There's exploration going on. Who knows in the future, but for now the Sunni-Arab perspective is very clearly that they're going to be cut out from the oil wealth of Iraq. If the Kurdistan get their region, maybe the Shiites get their region in the South. What's left for them? So this is going to be a deal breaker for sure.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think is the toughest?
MICHAEL RUBIN: I would largely agree that federalism is the key issue. The Kurds haven't really enunciated the difference between federalism and autonomy. Federalism any number of issues can come into play, who mans the borders, whether it's the Iraqi army or whether it's the Kurds themselves.
Likewise, as Joost said, the division of oil revenues; the Shiites have oil. The Kurds have oil and the Sunnis at this point in time pretty much only have nationalism with very little else.
MARGARET WARNER: Do they get to keep their own militias? That's also related.
MICHAEL RUBIN: That is, and who will subsidize those militias, whether they will have to pay for them themselves or whether the central government will play. The religion question can be folded in, in a lot of ways to federalism because, for example, let's be blunt. The Kurds like their whiskey with dinner. Culturally they enjoy it.
And in certain more Islamist parts at the Shia South people ban alcohol. There's actually been liquor stores that have been firebombed. If -- with federalism, if we're talking about how much local power, how much is dictated by the center and how much is locally derived, if you have federal regions in the south, for example, then they can decide we're going to ban alcohol in these three provinces and that solves the religious issues.
MARGARET WARNER: And that also connects to the rights of women, does it not?
JOOST HILTERMANN: Absolutely, yes. At the moment there is language in the draft constitution -- but there are many drafts floating around -- to suggest that critical issues like marriage and divorce be based on the family law according to the religious sect to which one belongs, and if that's the case, then there will be more severe restrictions on women's rights than we have seen under the previous regime.
And so it's a serious setback. Unfortunately there's not a strong women's lobby inside Iraq at the moment that can fight either through the constitutional committee or through the transitional national assembly to change that.
MARGARET WARNER: A final brief question, and you alluded to this earlier but when Laith Kubba, the spokesman for the Iraqi government, was here in town with al-Jaafari, he did suggest that maybe they come up with a framework by Aug. 15 and kick the can down the road particularly on federalism, maybe try to fill in the details as Ed Wong said before Aug. 15. Do you think that's a bad idea?
JOOST HILTERMANN: I think it's very important that the difficult decisions are taken as soon as possible because of the deep rifts that exist in Iraqi society now. Everybody is looking toward the leaders of their communities to bring Iraq back together. If that fails then I think the insurgents will win.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think of that idea: Framework and fill it in later?
MICHAEL RUBIN: I don't think it will particularly work well. The Kurds traditionally don't trust the central government, and they're not going to be willing to kick this can down the road.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you very much. Michael Rubin, Joost Hiltermann, thanks.