NAJAF, Iraq, Feb. 4 - With religious Shiite parties poised to take power in the new constitutional assembly, leading Shiite clerics are pushing for Islam to be recognized as the guiding principle of the new constitution.
Exactly how Islamic to make the document is the subject of debate.
At the very least, the clerics say, the constitution should ensure that legal measures overseeing personal matters like marriage, divorce and family inheritance fall under Shariah, or Koranic law. For example, daughters would receive half the inheritances of sons under that law.
On other issues, opinion varies, with the more conservative leaders insisting that Shariah be the foundation for all legislation.
Such a constitution would be a sharp departure from the transitional law that the Americans enacted before appointing the interim Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. American officials pressed Iraqi politicians drafting that law in early 2004 to guarantee equal rights for women and minorities. The Americans also persuaded the authors to designate Islam as just "a source" of legislation.
That irked senior Shiite clerics here, who, confident they now have a popular mandate from the elections, are advocating for Islam to be acknowledged as the underpinning of the government. They also insist that the Americans stay away from the writing of the new constitution.
Many factors could force the clerics to compromise their vision. The alliance of Shiite politicians in the constitutional assembly could splinter as its members vie against one another for power and trade favors with rival politicians like Dr. Allawi. Too strong a push for a Shiite religious state could prompt opposition from the former governing Sunni Arabs, a minority that already has said it feels disenfranchised, or from the Kurds, who can exercise veto power over the new constitution.
And Shiite politicians, recognizing a possible backlash from secular leaders and the Americans, have publicly promised not to install a theocracy similar to that of Iran, or allow clerics to run the country. But the clerics of Najaf, the holiest city of Shiite Islam, have emerged as the greatest power in the new Iraq. They forced the Americans to conform to their timetable for a political process. Their standing was bolstered last Sunday by the high turnout among Shiite voters and a widespread boycott by the Sunni Arabs, and the clerics will now wield considerable behind-the-scenes influence in the writing of the constitution through their coalition built around religious parties.
Now, when Jimmy Carter was president, Iran went from brutal dictatorship under a former friend of the US to an Islamic theocracy with some democratic features, and went about taking hostages. People on the right got righteously peeved at Carter, there were October Surprises, and in the end, the right-wing was ascendant in the US largely as a result of this theocracy gaining ascendancy.
Now, under George W. Bush Iraq has gone from a brutal dictatorship under a former friend of the US, and is apparently headed to become an Islamic theocracy with some democratic features...oh, and these guys are also taking hostages and cutting their heads off, and we have a military quagmire there.
And can anyone tell me again why we should listen to the chickenhawks?