The Hashemite Solution for Iraq

Bernard Lewis and R. James Woolsey (Wall Street Journal) Iraq already has a constitution. It was legally adopted in 1925 and Iraq was governed under it until the series of military, then Baathist, coups began in 1958 and brought over four decades of steadily worsening dictatorship. It has some very useful features that would permit it to be used on an interim basis while a new constitution is drafted. We need not shy away from the 1925 constitution because it establishes a constitutional monarchy. Using it as a transitional document would be entirely consistent with permanently establishing as head of state either a president or a monarch that, like the UK's, reigns but does not rule. Indeed, of the nations that have been democracies for a very long time and show every sign that they will remain so, a substantial majority are constitutional monarchies. (We should recall how important King Juan Carlos was to the transition from fascism to democracy in Spain.) As odd as the notion may seem to Americans whose national identity was forged in rebellion against George III, there is nothing fundamentally undemocratic about a limited monarchy's serving as a transitional, or even a long-term, constitutional structure in Iraq or any other country. Conveniently, the 1925 constitution provides that the people of Iraq are deemed to have "confided...a trust" to "King Faisal, son of Hussain, and to his heirs." If the allies who liberated Iraq recognized an heir of this Hashemite line as its constitutional monarch, and this monarch agreed to help bring about a modern democracy under the rule of law, such a structure could well be the framework for a much smoother transition to democracy than now seems at hand. The Sunni Hashemites, being able to claim direct descent from the Prophet Mohammed, have historically been respected by the Shiites, who constitute a majority of the people of Iraq. It is the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, not the Hashemites, who have been the Shiites' persecutors. Many Iraqis look back on the era of Hashemite rule from the 1920s to the 1950s as a golden age. The legitimacy and continuity which the Hashemites represent for large numbers of people in the Middle East could provide a useful underpinning for the growth of democracy in Iraq. The identification of legitimacy with the Western practice of balloting may well occur sooner in Iraq if it is developed at least initially as an expanding aspect of an already legitimate constitutional order. Some contend that a process that gave the UN a central role would somehow confer legitimacy. We are at a loss to understand this argument. Nearly 40% of the UN members' governments do not practice succession by election. In the Middle East only Israel and Turkey do so. During a transition in which Iraq is moving toward democracy, a government that is operating under its existing constitution, with a monarch as called for in that document, is at least as legitimate as the governments of UN members that are not democracies at all. The king should be a Hashemite prince with political experience and no political obligations or commitments. In view of the nation's Shiite majority, the prime minister should be a modern Shiite with a record of opposition to tyranny and oppression. Such leaders would be well-suited to begin the process that would in time lead to genuinely free and fair elections, sound amendments to the 1925 Iraqi Constitution, and the election of a truly representative governing body.

2003-10-29 00:00:00

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