Iraqi council faces many hurdles
The Arab League declined this week to recognize Iraq's new Governing Council.
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The council's 25 members represent all Iraq's ethnic groups including the roughly 75 percent who are Arab, 15 percent who are Kurdish, and the rest who include Turkomans and Assyrians. More than 60 percent of Iraqis - and council members - are Shiite, with more than 30 percent Sunni. Three council members are women, or 12 percent of the total, a high ratio for Arab Islamic countries. About two-thirds of members come from long-time Iraqi opposition groups, while the rest were chosen for their technical expertise.Skip to next paragraph
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Collective leadership is the priority, with the president mainly serving to run meetings, Kanna said. The upshot, however, could be a continued lack of decisiveness by the council.
Other primary tasks of the council include: establishing ministries and appointing ministers - which is ongoing this week; selecting Iraqi envoys to other countries; setting national economic, education, and health policy; and creating a commission to draft a new national constitution.
A new constitution, Kanna and others agree, must ensure fair representation for all groups in order to secure Iraq's long-term political stability. This week, the council is discussing a constitutional preparatory committee of 15 diverse experts who will take approximately six months to rewrite the Iraqi constitution, Kanna said.
One sensitive issue will be the role of Islam in the constitution. While the constitution should uphold religious freedom, it is also likely to include a clause expressing respect for "the Islamic culture of the majority of Iraqi people," says Kanna, who is a member of Iraq's Christian minority.
Once the constitution is complete, the plan is to hold a national referendum for Iraqis to vote on it. National elections will then take place, possibly within a year from now, according to coalition and Iraqi officials.
Relations between the interim council and the CPA have been good, Kanna says, although he and other members voice some criticisms of the coalition's handling of security problems in Iraq. After the war, Iraqis looted vast arms warehouses, "taking their pick" of weapons ranging from AK-47s to grenades, he says. Hussein released thousands of criminals before the war.
The council will meet with top coalition generals this week to push for a greater Iraqi security role, he says. One plan calls for sending an Iraqi civil defense battalion to each of the country's 18 governorates.
"The people will never be happy with tanks in the streets every day," Kanna says. "A national Iraqi force will be much more active and productive," he says, adding that Iraqi forces can better sort out "bad guys" unwittingly hired by the US-led coalition.
Despite an ambitious agenda, the council faces practical obstacles to its work. It still lacks a spokesman, has no by-laws, and has yet to define its basic institutional relationships with the CPA or local governments in Iraq. Phone communications are limited, e-mail remains a novelty to some, and security is a constant concern - one reason the council is moving to new offices this month.
Still, Kanna is optimistic as he stands on the roof of his compound. An Assyrian women's movement building and TV station have taken the place of Uday's torture chambers, and children play soccer on a field where Iraqis five months ago feared to tread.
Creating a democracy in Iraq will take time, but at least, he says, the worst is over. "We suffered 35 years," he says. "Now the best job is done, there is no more Saddam Hussein and his regime."