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Sami Ramadani

Democracy in Iraq

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Blair once again misled parliament this week by branding the resistance in Falluja as Zarqawi-style terrorists out to destroy the prospects for democracy. It was he and Bush who last year rejected the calls for early free and fair elections from those who rejected the occupation, including Ayatollah Sistani, Moqtada al-Sadr, the resistance and the widely supported Iraqi National Foundation Congress. Bush and Blair are terrified of the Iraqi people voting for anti-occupation leaders. They will accept nothing short of the legitimisation, through sham elections supervised by the occupation authorities, of an Allawi-style puppet regime.

More than 100,000 Iraqis are estimated to have been been killed since the US-led invasion; the country's infrastructure has all but been destroyed; people are exposed to the danger of US and British depleted-uranium shells; hospitals have been reduced to impotence in the face of mounting injuries and disease; the centre of Najaf and entire neighbourhoods of several cities have been razed. How much more should the Iraqi people be subjected to for Bush and Blair to have their "democratically" chosen puppets installed in Baghdad?

These are war crimes of Saddamist proportions, and there is evidently more to come. Bush's latest pronouncements and Blair's declaration of a "second war" have made clear that the occupation governments are ready to kill (as "collateral damage", no doubt) even more Iraqis to enforce a pro-US order. Without a shred of evidence, Bush, Blair and Ayad Allawi's quisling regime shamelessly declare that they are only pursuing the Jordanian kidnapper Zarqawi and other "foreign terrorists". The people of Falluja, their leaders, negotiators and resistance fighters have always denounced Zarqawi and argued that such gangs have been encouraged to undermine the resistance.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1347354,00.html

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Today the Allawi government has introduced more restructions on press freedom - newpapers are required to give the government point of view and forbidden to refer to the victims of US military actions except as "terrorists".

reported by Democracy Now

It also transpires that Allawi has been settiung up a secret police force recruited from Saddam's "former" torturers. This even shocked the rightwing EconomistEconomist

Will we live long enough to see Allawi become a new Saddam? After the rather dubious elections will the US be able to "declare victory and go home"?

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Elections in Iraq were never going to be peaceful, but they did not need to be an all-out war on voters either. Mr Allawi's Rocket the Vote campaign is the direct result of a disastrous decision made one year ago. On November 11 2003, Paul Bremer, then chief US envoy to Iraq, flew to Washington to meet George Bush. The two men were concerned that if they kept their promise to hold elections in Iraq within the coming months, the country would fall into the hands of insufficiently pro-American forces.

That would defeat the purpose of the invasion, and it would threaten President Bush's re-election chances. At that meeting, a revised plan was hatched: elections would be delayed for more than a year, and in the meantime, Iraq's first "sovereign" government would be hand-picked by Washington. The plan would allow Mr Bush to claim progress on the campaign trail, while keeping Iraq safely under US control.

In the US, Mr Bush's claim that "freedom is on the march" served its purpose, but in Iraq, the plan led directly to the carnage we see today.

Mr Bush likes to paint the forces opposed to the US presence in Iraq as enemies of democracy. In fact, much of the uprising can be traced directly to decisions made in Washington to stifle, repress, delay, manipulate and otherwise thwart the democratic aspirations of the Iraqi people.

Yes, democracy has genuine opponents in Iraq, but before George Bush and Paul Bremer decided to break their central promise to hand over power to an elected Iraqi government, these forces were isolated and contained. That changed when Mr Bremer returned to Baghdad and tried to convince Iraqis that they weren't yet ready for democracy.

Mr Bremer argued that the country was too insecure to hold elections, and besides, there were no voter rolls. Few were convinced. In January 2004, 100,000 Iraqis peacefully took to the streets of Baghdad, and 30,000 more did so in Basra. Their chant was "Yes, yes elections. No, no selections." At the time, many argued that Iraq was safe enough to have elections and pointed out that the lists from the Saddam-era oil-for-food programme could serve as voter rolls. But Mr Bremer wouldn't budge and the UN - scandalously and fatefully - backed him up.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Hussain al-Shahristani, chairman of the standing committee of the Iraqi National Academy of Science (who was imprisoned under Saddam Hussein for 10 years), accurately predicted what would happen next. "Elections will be held in Iraq, sooner or later," he wrote. "The sooner they are held, and a truly democratic Iraq is established, the fewer Iraqi and American lives will be lost."

Ten months and thousands of lost Iraqi and American lives later, elections are scheduled to take place with part of the country in the grip of yet another invasion and much of the rest of it under martial law. As for the voter rolls, the Allawi government is planning to use the oil-for-food lists, just as was suggested and dismissed a year ago.

So it turns out that all of the excuses were lies: if elections can be held now, they most certainly could have been held a year ago, when the country was vastly calmer. But that would have denied Washington the chance to install a puppet regime in Iraq, and possibly would have prevented George Bush from winning a second term.

Is it any wonder that Iraqis are sceptical of the version of democracy being delivered to them by US troops, or that elections have come to be seen not as tools of liberation but as weapons of war?

First, Iraq's promised elections were sacrificed in the interest of George Bush's re-election hopes; next, the siege of Falluja itself was crassly shackled to these same interests. The fighter planes didn't even wait an hour after George Bush finished his acceptance speech to begin the air attack on Falluja. The city was bombed at least six times through the next day and night. With voting safely over in the US, Falluja could be destroyed in the name of its own upcoming elections.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Colum...1350305,00.html

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We do not know what the outcome of the Iraq elections will be. We do know that Mr Allawi has been assiduously silencing the press and arresting (or bombing) opponents. The US cannot accept a government which will tell them to bugger off so they cannot accept democratic elections.

However another policy which lies in ruins today is Naomi Klein and indeed Michael Moore's policy of "anybody but Bush"....."anybody" couldn't hack it.

Just before the election Bush's poodle Mr Blair put British troops in harm's way in order to bolster the impression that the US is not going it alone and that Bush has international support for his policy.

Remember when Blair was "the lesser evil" compared with the corrupt Tory government he defeated? Blair was what Kerry was. We would have been demonstrating and protesting Kerry's massacre at Fallujah today rather than Bush's if Naomi's chosen candidate had won.

That is why Nader is important despite the betrayal of people like Michael Moore and Naomi Klein. If there had been a strong radical alternative to Blair at the last election, (possibly backed by one or more trade unions) people could see for themselves how hollow the fake argument for a "lesser evil" is.

Better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want ... and get it.

Philip Locker has an analysis of this in this week's Socialist

It can be read here

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Don't blame me...I voted for Nader (sorry, couldn't resist!) Interestingly, when the election results for our county were published in the local (weekly) paper, no votes were listed for Nader (I had to write him in on my ballot - but it still should have counted). The libertarian candidate got 85 votes (he was on the ballot). I know I'm not the only one who voted for Nader here - so I wonder where our votes went....

Derek is absolutely right about the main party alternatives - neither was worth the powder it would take to blow 'em sky high. Hey, maybe our election was as "free" as the January Iraq election promises to be! We really have brought US style democracy to Iraq! We've won!!

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In the first Gulf War it was claimed that the US got involved as it wanted to help establish free elections in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We are still waiting for this to happen. Would it not have been better (and easier) to deliver democracy in these states than Iraq.

Bush also announced over the weekend that he would wait till after the elections in Palestine before he decides what he will give to the people of this country. I assume that if the Palestine elect a government that Bush does not like, the US will not help to achieve a peace settlement in the Middle East. Does it also mean that Bush will not accept the decision of the Iraqi people if they elect an anti-American government?

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This letter from Charles Krauthammer was published in today's Washington Post:

In 1864, 11 of the 36 states did not participate in the American presidential election. Was Lincoln's election therefore illegitimate?

In 1868, three years after the security situation had, shall we say, stabilised, three states (and not insignificant ones: Texas, Virginia and Mississippi) did not participate in the election. Was Grant's election illegitimate?

There has been much talk that if the Iraqi election is held and some Sunni Arab provinces (perhaps three of the 18) do not participate, the election will be illegitimate. Nonsense. The election should be held. It should be open to everyone. If Iraq's Sunni Arabs - barely 20% of the population - decide that they cannot abide giving up their 80 years of minority rule, which ended with 30 years of Saddam Hussein's atrocious tyranny, then tough luck. They forfeit their chance to shape and to participate in the new Iraq.

Americans are dying right now to give them that very chance. The US is making a costly last-ditch effort to midwife a new, unitary Iraq. The Falluja offensive and related actions are designed to reduce the brutal intimidation of the Sunni population by the dead-end Ba'athists and others seeking to retake the power that they enjoyed under Saddam. But when those offensives are over, the Sunnis themselves - ordinary people who, out of either fear or sympathy, have been giving refuge and support to the terrorist insurgents - will have to make a choice. Either they join the new Iraq by participating in the coming election, or they institutionalise the civil war that their side has already begun.

People keep warning about the danger of civil war. This is absurd. There already is a civil war. It is raging before our eyes. Problem is, only one side is fighting it. The other side, the Shias and the Kurds, are largely watching as their part of the fight is borne primarily by the US. Both have an interest in the outcome. The Shias constitute a majority of Iraqis and will inevitably inherit power in any democratic arrangement. The Kurds want to retain their successful autonomous zone without worrying about new depredations at the hands of the Sunni Arabs.

This is the Shias' and the Kurds' fight. Yet when police stations are ravaged by Sunni Arab insurgents in Mosul, American soldiers are rushed in to fight them. The obvious question is: why don't we unleash the fierce and well-trained Kurdish peshmerga militias against them? (Mosul is heavily Kurdish and suffered a terrible Kurdish expulsion under Saddam.)

Yes, some of the Iraqi police/national guard units fighting alongside our troops are largely Kurdish. But they, like the Shias, fight in an avowedly non-sectarian Iraqi force. Why? Because we want to maintain this idea of a unified, non-ethnic Iraq. At some point, however, we must decide whether that is possible, and how many American lives should be sacrificed in its name.

In April I wrote in these pages that, while our "goal has been to build a united, pluralistic, democratic Iraq in which the factions negotiate their differences the way we do in the west", that goal "may be, in the short run, a bridge too far... [We] should lower our ambitions and see Iraqi factionalisation as a useful tool."

For example, we (and the British) have been spearheading a new counteroffensive against Sunni guerrillas south of Baghdad. Where are the Shias? I understand Shia wariness about fighting alongside us. It is not, as conventional wisdom has it, because of some deep-seated Iraqi nationalism. In 1991 the Shias were begging the US to intervene during their uprising against Saddam. They were dying, literally, for the American army to help them. Unfortunately - and this misfortune haunts us to this day - they were betrayed. Having encouraged the Shias to rebel, we did not lift a finger as Saddam slaughtered them by the thousands.

Given that history, the Shias are today understandably wary about American steadfastness and intentions. If the Shias do go out on a limb and pick up the fight against the insurgent Sunnis, will we leave them hanging again?

Our taking on the Sunnis is a way of demonstrating good faith. As is our intention to hold the election no matter what. Everyone knows that the outcome of the election will be a historic transfer of power to the Shias (and, to some extent, to the Kurds). We must make it clear that we will be there to support that new government. But we also have to make it clear that we are not there to lead the fight indefinitely. It is their civil war.

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I know you're not supposed to make ad hominem comments, but what a prat Charles Krauthammer is! Sorry, I just couldn't help that.

So … one of the leading apologists for the war in Iraq suggests 'unleashing' the Kurdish forces in Mosul. I suppose that that would be alright with the Turkomen (and Turkey) as the Kurds take over the most important oil-producing centre in Iraq after Basra. I'm sure that the Shia clerics in the south will also be happy to have the northern part of the country fall under the control of a group of people who don't share their desire to turn Iraq into a theocracy.

It's so interesting to see the intellectual knots right-wing US commentators tie themselves up into as they try to extricate themselves and their country from the mess they've made.

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It didn't take long for the bubble of euphoria that accompanied the Iraqi elections in January to burst and make a mockery of Dick Cheney's claim that the insurgency was "in its last throes". In the first half of July alone there were more than 40 suicide bombings in Iraq. This suggests a campaign of extraordinary regenerative force. Whereas most terrorist organisations view the loss of members as an occupational hazard, those driving the violence in Iraq embrace it willingly in the knowledge that more volunteers will always be available. It also suggests that leadership of the insurgency has passed from disaffected Ba'athists to the most extreme Sunni Islamists led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

There is strong evidence that the Bush administration realises the seriousness of its predicament and is lowering its ambitions accordingly. Gone is the tough-guy "bring 'em on" rhetoric. Instead Donald Rumsfeld now talks about a 12-year campaign in which the insurgency is defeated by Iraqi forces long after coalition troops have departed. The architects of the Iraq war are looking for a way out, but that is unlikely to be the end of the matter. We face years of "blowback" for gifting al-Qaida an active theatre of operations to recruit and train a new generation of jihadists. Our leaders cleared out one hornet's nest of international terrorists in Afghanistan only to create another one in Iraq.

Potentially more worrying still is the emerging politics of post-Saddam Iraq. This has gone through three phases, each corresponding with the declining fortunes of the occupation. The first was an attempt to install a government of hand-picked emigres led by the one-time neoconservative favourite Ahmad Chalabi. This plan was dumped when it became apparent that Chalabi enjoyed almost no domestic support. The second was the "Ba'athism lite" option under Ayad Allawi, the Shia strongman and ex-Ba'athist thought capable of reaching out to former Saddam loyalists. This failed when Allawi polled a disappointing 14% in January's election.

The third phase, and likely shape of things to come, has been the rise of the Shia Islamist bloc that now controls a majority in the Iraqi parliament. Coalition strategists are putting a brave face on this by stressing the supposedly moderate and democratic credentials of these "new Islamists". But you do not need to look very far into the past to see how unlikely this is. The new prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, was feted on a recent trip to the White House, but his hosts conveniently chose to forget that fact that his Dawa party was suspected of involvement in a string of terrorist attacks against western interests, including the 1983 bombings of the US embassy in Kuwait and the US marine barracks in Beirut. The latter, the worst act of terrorism against the US prior to 9/11, killed 241 American peacekeepers. In those days Dawa acted under the guidance of the Iranian intelligence services.

Of course, times change. Al-Jafaari has renounced terrorism and embraced electoral politics. Today both he and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of the main Shia party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), make all the right noises about pluralism and national unity. But this is so out of step with their ideology and backgrounds that it is hard to see it as a sincere account of their plans for Iraq.

It is also demonstrably out of step with the reality on the ground. Where they are already in control, the Shia parties are enforcing an increasingly repressive religious code. In Basra, formerly one of the most liberal cities in Iraq, there has been a clampdown on the sale of alcohol, singing in public, short haircuts and women without headscarves. Beatings have been administered to male doctors who treat female patients and students attending a mixed-sex picnic. These measures are enforced by militias such as the Badr Brigade, affiliated to Sciri, which also controls the local police.

The encroachment of Iranian-style theocratic rule has been paralleled by a growing alliance with Tehran in areas such as energy and defence. It would be wrong to see Iraq's Shia parties simply as instruments of Iran. But it would also be foolish to ignore the very strong gravitational pull Tehran is likely to exert, for both ideological and strategic reasons, on the fledgling Islamic state to its west. As the Sciri leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim said on a recent visit to Basra: "The great Islamic republic has a very formidable government. It can be very useful to us, and it has an honourable attitude toward Iraq." Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries remain hostile to Shia rule in Iraq, so it is perhaps inevitable that they will be drawn to the protective embrace of their coreligionists.

All of this presents a grave problem for Bush and Blair. According the Bush doctrine they intervened in order to "create a balance of power that favours human freedom". Instead they are in danger of creating a balance of power that favours Iran, a country still deemed to form part of the "axis of evil". The recent victory for the hardline candidate in Iran's presidential elections and the regime's apparent determination to acquire nuclear weapons compounds the problem. Bogged down in Iraq and now entirely dependent on the goodwill of its Shia majority to make the place governable, America and Britain have left themselves with few credible options for containing Iran or even influencing its behaviour.

The invasion of Iraq has frequently been described as the biggest diplomatic blunder since Suez. This already looks like a considerable understatement. On a worst-case scenario that now seems possible, it could very well come to be seen as one of the greatest foreign-policy own goals of all time.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1540028,00.html

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I wouldn't mind hearing some replies to the "but millions of Iraqi's risked their lives to vote," and why US insurgency on that basis is/is not worth it for their freedom.

I am fairly confused on the whole issue. First because American conservative sources will regard The Guardian as a hard left, maybe anti-American news source. Second, frankly I found many of the points sited penetrating. I think one US radio critic said it best when he questioned the US's ability to change the Iraqi environment based on the fact evil has always been there for hundreds of years. Another that the US has gone in without, and though realizing no true "plan" can be created until a war has been met for a period of time, a "exit strategy" is daunting and beyond irresponsible if true.

What would help most if responders briefly in bullets or points summarized what would be the pros and cons of what has shaped up to this point. I think what bothers me the most in our two-party system is many on the left want the US to pack up and leave immediately while the right at times will throw out the anti-American rhetoric if you even question the wars validity.

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I wouldn't mind hearing some replies to the "but millions of Iraqi's risked their lives to vote," and why US insurgency on that basis is/is not worth it for their freedom.

I am fairly confused on the whole issue.  First because American conservative sources will regard The Guardian as a hard left, maybe anti-American news source.  Second, frankly I found many of the points sited penetrating.  I think one US radio critic said it best when he questioned the US's ability to change the Iraqi environment based on the fact evil has always been there for hundreds of years.  Another that the US has gone in without, and though realizing no true "plan" can be created until a war has been met for a period of time, a "exit strategy" is daunting and beyond irresponsible if true.

What would help most if responders briefly in bullets or points summarized what would be the pros and cons of what has shaped up to this point.  I think what bothers me the most in our two-party system is many on the left want the US to pack up and leave immediately while the right at times will throw out the anti-American rhetoric if you even question the wars validity.

Hi Brent

I think the tragedy of Iraq and the Bush/Blair intervention in that country is that in the end, the Iraq that is created is unlikely to be the democratic and pro-western entity that the planners of the war envisioned.

Instead of the contained pre-invasion Iraq under Saddam Hussein, there will be either

< a fractured region of local control that will continue to be a breeding ground for anti-West terrorists or

< an actively anti-West country allied to Iran.

Both scenarios seem possible, and even if the Shia-dominated government can quell the insurgency, a close alliance to Iran seems likely given the political and religious ties between the Shia leaders of the interim government and Iran.

Already Iraqis are complaining about American plans to try to "extend the invasion" ... and who can blame them ... who wants to be an occupied country?

The Iraqi attitude toward the West after this will probably be "thanks but no thanks" . . . after thousands of Westerners have died, and tens of thousands of Iraqis or, possibly before all this is over, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Chris

Edited by Christopher T. George

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Apparently George Bush is surprised by the problems the Iraqis are having developing a new constitution. I wonder what his advisers told him when he came up with plans to impose democracy on Iraq. Were they really unaware that Iraq is made up of three distinct groups that have been rivals for centuries? It is hard to see how this problem could be overcome. One possibility is to create a federal state (that is what they have been trying to do). This appeals to the Shias and the Kurds. However, there is no way the Sunnis will accept this. The main reason is that those regions where the Sunnis dominate has no oil. If this federal system is imposed it will lead to Civil War that could spread to other countries in the region.

If Iraq remained united and introduces a democratic system, it will result in a Shia dominated government. The Kurds will fight for their independence whereas the Sunnis would form alliances with others in the Middle East.

Of course this illegal invasion never had anything to do with democracy. However, that is what Bush and Blair told us and that is what the rest of the world is waiting for them to deliver.

What have Bush's supporters on the forum got to say about this problem? Not very much I expect. They probably know as much about the political situation in Iraq as Bush.

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Hi John

Bush's speeches to the American people are replete with incorrect historical analogies. Post-Saddam Iraq is likened to Japan and Germany after World War II, the state of Iraq is stated to be akin to the United States when it was writing its constitution, or to the situation of the Americans under George Washington at Valley Forge. The likening of the Iraqis who strive for democracy to democracy in the early years of the U.S. is possibly the greatest travesty, a disservice to the realities of Iraq and to the people of Iraq. However, Bush, throughout, has tried to wrap Iraq in the American flag and the ideals of the American republic, as if such calls to American patriotism will make acceptable the mess that Iraq has become

All my best

Chris

Edited by Christopher T. George

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Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow of occupation. Whatever the parliamentarians in Iraq do to try to prevent total meltdown, their efforts are compromised by the fact that their power grows from the barrel of someone else's gun. When George Bush picked up the phone last week to urge the negotiators to sign the constitution, he reminded Iraqis that their representatives - though elected - remain the administrators of his protectorate. While US and British troops stay in Iraq, no government there can make an undisputed claim to legitimacy. Nothing can be resolved in that country until our armies leave.

This is by no means the only problem confronting the people who drafted Iraq's constitution. The refusal by the Shias and the Kurds to make serious compromises on federalism, which threatens to deprive the central, Sunni-dominated areas of oil revenues, leaves the Sunnis with little choice but to reject the agreement in October's referendum. The result could be civil war.

Can anything be done? It might be too late. But it seems to me that the transitional assembly has one last throw of the dice. This is to abandon the constitution it has signed, and Bush's self-serving timetable, and start again with a different democratic design.

The problem with the way the constitution was produced is the problem afflicting almost all the world's democratic processes. The deliberations were back to front. First the members of the constitutional committee, shut inside the green zone, argue over every dot and comma; then they present the whole thing (25 pages in English translation) to the people for a yes or no answer. The question and the answer are meaningless.

All politically conscious people, having particular interests and knowing that perfection in politics is impossible, will, on reading a complex document like this, see that it is good in some places and bad in others. They might recognise some articles as being bad for them but good for society as a whole; they might recognise others as being good or bad for almost everyone. What then does yes or no mean?

Let me be more precise. How, for example, could anyone agree with both these statements, from articles 2 and 19 respectively? "Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation: no law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam." (In other words, the supreme authority in law is God.) "The judiciary is independent, with no power above it other than the law."

Or both these, from articles 14 and 148? "Iraqis are equal before the law without discrimination because of sex, ethnicity, nationality, origin, colour, religion, sect, belief, opinion or social or economic status"; "Members of the presidential council must ... have left the dissolved party [the Ba'ath] at least 10 years before its fall if they were members in it."

Faced with such contradictions, no thoughtful elector can wholly endorse or reject this document. Of course, this impossible choice is what we would have confronted (but at 10 times the length and a hundred times the complexity) had we been asked to vote on the European constitution. The yes or no question put to us would have been just as stupid, and just as just as stupefying. It treats us like idiots and - because we cannot refine our responses - reduces us to idiots. But while it would have merely enhanced our sense of alienation from the European project, for the Iraqis the meaninglessness of the question could be a matter of life and death. If there is not a widespread sense of public ownership of the country's political processes, and a widespread sense that political differences can be meaningfully resolved by democratic means, this empowers those who seek to resolve them otherwise.

Last week George Bush, echoed on these pages by Bill Clinton's former intelligence adviser Philip Bobbitt, compared the drafting process in Baghdad to the construction of the American constitution. If they believe that the comparison commends itself to the people of Iraq, they are plainly even more out of touch than I thought. But it should also be obvious that we now live in more sceptical times. When the US constitution was drafted, representative democracy was a radical and thrilling idea. Now it is an object of suspicion and even contempt, as people all over the world recognise that it allows us to change the management but not the firm. And one of the factors that have done most to engender public scepticism is the meaninglessness of the only questions we are ever asked. I read Labour's manifesto before the last election and found good and bad in it. But whether I voted for or against, I had no means to explain what I liked and what I didn't.

Does it require much imagination to see the link between our choice of meaningless absolutes and the Manichean worldview our leaders have evolved? We must decide at elections whether they are right or wrong - about everything. Should we then be surprised when they start talking about good and evil, friend and foe, being with them or against them?

Almost two years ago Troy Davis, a democracy-engineering consultant, pointed out that if a constitutional process in Iraq was to engender trust and national commitment, it had to "promote a culture of democratic debate". Like Professor Vivian Hart, of the University of Sussex, he argued that it should draw on the experiences of Nicaragua in 1986, where 100,000 people took part in townhall meetings reviewing the draft constitution, and of South Africa, where the public made 2 million submissions to the drafting process. In both cases, the sense of public ownership this fostered accelerated the process of reconciliation. Not only is your own voice heard in these public discussions, but you must also hear others. Hearing them, you are confronted with the need for compromise.

But when negotiations are confined to the green zone's black box, the Iraqis have no sense that the process belongs to them. Because they are not asked to participate, they are not asked to understand where other people's interests lie and how they might be accommodated. And when the whole thing goes belly up, it will be someone else's responsibility. If Iraq falls apart over the next couple of years, it would not be unfair, among other factors, to blame the fact that Davis and Hart were ignored. For the people who designed Iraq's democratic processes, history stopped in 1787.

Deliberative democracy is not a panacea. You can have fake participatory processes just as you can have fake representative ones. But it is hard to see why representation cannot be tempered by participation. Why should we be forbidden to choose policies, rather than just parties or entire texts? Can we not be trusted? If not, then what is the point of elections? The age of purely representative democracy is surely over. It is time the people had their say.

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Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow of occupation. Whatever the parliamentarians in Iraq do to try to prevent total meltdown, their efforts are compromised by the fact that their power grows from the barrel of someone else's gun. When George Bush picked up the phone last week to urge the negotiators to sign the constitution, he reminded Iraqis that their representatives - though elected - remain the administrators of his protectorate. While US and British troops stay in Iraq, no government there can make an undisputed claim to legitimacy. Nothing can be resolved in that country until our armies leave.

This is by no means the only problem confronting the people who drafted Iraq's constitution. The refusal by the Shias and the Kurds to make serious compromises on federalism, which threatens to deprive the central, Sunni-dominated areas of oil revenues, leaves the Sunnis with little choice but to reject the agreement in October's referendum. The result could be civil war.

Can anything be done? It might be too late. But it seems to me that the transitional assembly has one last throw of the dice. This is to abandon the constitution it has signed, and Bush's self-serving timetable, and start again with a different democratic design.

The problem with the way the constitution was produced is the problem afflicting almost all the world's democratic processes. The deliberations were back to front. First the members of the constitutional committee, shut inside the green zone, argue over every dot and comma; then they present the whole thing (25 pages in English translation) to the people for a yes or no answer. The question and the answer are meaningless.

All politically conscious people, having particular interests and knowing that perfection in politics is impossible, will, on reading a complex document like this, see that it is good in some places and bad in others. They might recognise some articles as being bad for them but good for society as a whole; they might recognise others as being good or bad for almost everyone. What then does yes or no mean?

Let me be more precise. How, for example, could anyone agree with both these statements, from articles 2 and 19 respectively? "Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation: no law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam." (In other words, the supreme authority in law is God.) "The judiciary is independent, with no power above it other than the law."

Or both these, from articles 14 and 148? "Iraqis are equal before the law without discrimination because of sex, ethnicity, nationality, origin, colour, religion, sect, belief, opinion or social or economic status"; "Members of the presidential council must ... have left the dissolved party [the Ba'ath] at least 10 years before its fall if they were members in it."

Faced with such contradictions, no thoughtful elector can wholly endorse or reject this document. Of course, this impossible choice is what we would have confronted (but at 10 times the length and a hundred times the complexity) had we been asked to vote on the European constitution. The yes or no question put to us would have been just as stupid, and just as just as stupefying. It treats us like idiots and - because we cannot refine our responses - reduces us to idiots. But while it would have merely enhanced our sense of alienation from the European project, for the Iraqis the meaninglessness of the question could be a matter of life and death. If there is not a widespread sense of public ownership of the country's political processes, and a widespread sense that political differences can be meaningfully resolved by democratic means, this empowers those who seek to resolve them otherwise.

Last week George Bush, echoed on these pages by Bill Clinton's former intelligence adviser Philip Bobbitt, compared the drafting process in Baghdad to the construction of the American constitution. If they believe that the comparison commends itself to the people of Iraq, they are plainly even more out of touch than I thought. But it should also be obvious that we now live in more sceptical times. When the US constitution was drafted, representative democracy was a radical and thrilling idea. Now it is an object of suspicion and even contempt, as people all over the world recognise that it allows us to change the management but not the firm. And one of the factors that have done most to engender public scepticism is the meaninglessness of the only questions we are ever asked. I read Labour's manifesto before the last election and found good and bad in it. But whether I voted for or against, I had no means to explain what I liked and what I didn't.

Does it require much imagination to see the link between our choice of meaningless absolutes and the Manichean worldview our leaders have evolved? We must decide at elections whether they are right or wrong - about everything. Should we then be surprised when they start talking about good and evil, friend and foe, being with them or against them?

Almost two years ago Troy Davis, a democracy-engineering consultant, pointed out that if a constitutional process in Iraq was to engender trust and national commitment, it had to "promote a culture of democratic debate". Like Professor Vivian Hart, of the University of Sussex, he argued that it should draw on the experiences of Nicaragua in 1986, where 100,000 people took part in townhall meetings reviewing the draft constitution, and of South Africa, where the public made 2 million submissions to the drafting process. In both cases, the sense of public ownership this fostered accelerated the process of reconciliation. Not only is your own voice heard in these public discussions, but you must also hear others. Hearing them, you are confronted with the need for compromise.

But when negotiations are confined to the green zone's black box, the Iraqis have no sense that the process belongs to them. Because they are not asked to participate, they are not asked to understand where other people's interests lie and how they might be accommodated. And when the whole thing goes belly up, it will be someone else's responsibility. If Iraq falls apart over the next couple of years, it would not be unfair, among other factors, to blame the fact that Davis and Hart were ignored. For the people who designed Iraq's democratic processes, history stopped in 1787.

Deliberative democracy is not a panacea. You can have fake participatory processes just as you can have fake representative ones. But it is hard to see why representation cannot be tempered by participation. Why should we be forbidden to choose policies, rather than just parties or entire texts? Can we not be trusted? If not, then what is the point of elections? The age of purely representative democracy is surely over. It is time the people had their say.

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