Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Middle East Yet Again

I am not intentionally ignoring the nearly 800 pilgrims who just died in Baghdad while doing their pilgrimage. However, I've been obsessed with Katrina in New Orleans (hell, that's MY house, after all), and I've been distracted from Iraq temporarily. The pilgrims' loss is obviously massive, and it deserves a lot of attention, but I have nothing special on it at the moment. Instead, I have previous postings on Iraq that have sat on the shelf while I was obsessing about Katrina:
1) Top priority for activists, this from an anonymous friend. The first part is to a link by Reuters about their person taken by US forces:
"I wanted to bring something to your attention in hopes that it might generate enough noise to make a difference. I'm attaching a link below to a story on reuters calling for release of cameraman shot in baghdad (almost certainly by US snipers) and then taken away by u.s. troops. A driver/soundman with whom we worked, Walid Khalid, was with him and was shot to death. u.s. military is offering little explanation or justification but implying that one or both of them was up to something. Another cameraman, from Ramadi -- who replaced a guy also shot to death, again very probably by u.s. troops -- is also being held incommunicado in abu ghraib. rsf, cpj and others have gotten involved, but perhaps mentioning it along with a pentagon number or email address could help make it enough of a hassle to do something for them:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20050829/ts_nm/iraq_reuters_dc;_ylt=AmJu4luvtOH1BuBc9z58AUFZ.3QA;_ylu=X3oDMTBiMW04NW9mBHNlYwMlJVRPUCUl
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20050831/ts_nm/iraq_reuters_dc;_ylt=AkJo8erK8MaOwXPJvmmmxxdZ.3QA;_ylu=X3oDMTBiMW04NW9mBHNlYwMlJVRPUCUl
This is another quote by the fellow trying to help the guy get out:
"The one guy has been freed, thankfully; the Ramadicameraman's detention extended for up to six monthsbefore a hearing, still incommunicado. Unbelievable.the kangaroo court which rules on such things is saidto have deemed him a threat to iraq."
If you want to get involved in helping out these journalists (who are friends of a close friend of mine), then here is your contact point:
Defense Department operators (703) 545-6700.http://www.pentagon.mil/faq/comment.html
Here is a quote, which shows how US democracy really works:
"I don't have any illusions about anyone listening, but hope there is a possibility of making it noisy enough that the military will find justifying their imprisonment more trouble than it's worth."
2) "please also see this link for the state of things as of wednesday afternoon":
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20050831/ts_nm/iraq_reuters_dc;_ylt=AkJo8erK8MaOwXPJvmmmxxdZ.3QA;_ylu=X3oDMTBiMW04NW9mBHNlYwMlJVRPUCUl

3) Here is a post explaining democracy, as it stands currently in Iraq:
Iraq parl't absentees thwart vote on absenteeismMon Aug 29, 2005 11:33 AM BST
By Michael Georgy
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's parliament proposed a law on Monday to sack members of the National Assembly who repeatedly failed to turn up for work -- but the decision was put on hold because too many were absent to hold a vote.
The chamber voted 74 in favour and 71 against the legislation, but deputy speaker Hussein al-Shahristani decided to put proceedings on hold because those opposed said the absentees had a right to vote.
It was not clear why the remaining members of the 275-member parliament had missed work.
"We are in a national assembly and we have to obey its rules," said an assembly member.
Iraq's parliament is portrayed by Iraqi officials and their American supporters as a symbol of democracy after decades of iron-fisted rule under Saddam Hussein.
It meets for long hours locked in heated debates on everything from foreign relations to wheat purchases in a conference hall where birthday parties were once held for Saddam.
Just before arguments on absentee members erupted many issues were discussed, including compensation for victims of relentless suicide bombings and shootings that prompted the construction of blast walls around their building complex.
Parliament sessions are televised live to show Iraqis their new leaders are focussing on the country's problems, including power and water shortages and rampant crime.
But poor attendance in the chamber has raised questions over parliament members, who offcials say are paid much higher salaries than average Iraqis.
The issue came to a head in a heated session one day after politicians wrangled for weeks on a new constitution and handed it to parliament.
"Brothers, to cause panic in this session do you think that the Iraqi people will accept to find the national assembly in this state," asked Shahristani, a former nuclear scientist jailed by Saddam.
When one of the members of parliament called for a vote recount, Shahristani yelled back.
"You can't impose your point of view on the others," he said.
But one member reminded the parliament that they now live in a democracy.
"Doubting is the right of any member in the National Assembly because we don't have computers to count the votes so we have to rely on people."

4) Is Iraq more expensive than Vietnam even was?:
The Iraq Quagmire: The Mounting Costs of War and theCase for Bringing Home the Troops
A Study by the Institute for Policy Studies andForeign Policy In Focus
By Phyllis Bennis and Erik Leaverand the IPS Iraq TaskForce
August 31, 2005
Full report with citations (.pdf document)
Key Findings
Highlights
* Costs to the United States * Costs to Iraq * Costs to the World
KEY FINDINGS
“The Iraq Quagmire” is the most comprehensiveaccounting of the mounting costs and consequences ofthe Iraq War on the United States, Iraq, and theworld. Among its major findings are stark figures thatquantify the continuing of costs since the Iraqielections, a period that the Bush administrationclaimed would be characterized by a reduction in thehuman and economic costs.
Vietnam Echoes
* According to current estimates, the cost of theIraq War could exceed $700 billion. In currentdollars, the Vietnam War cost U.S. taxpayers $600billion. * Operations costs in Iraq are estimated at $5.6billion per month in 2005. By comparison, the averagecost of U.S. operations in Vietnam over the eight-yearwar was $5.1 billion per month, adjusting forinflation. * Staying in Iraq and Afghanistan at currentlevels would nearly double the projected federalbudget deficit over the next decade. * Since 2001, the U.S. has deployed more than 1million troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. * Broken down per person in the United States, thecost so far is $727, making the Iraq War the mostexpensive military effort in the last 60 years. * The number of journalists killed reporting theIraq War (66) has exceeded the number of journalistskilled reporting on the Vietnam War (63).
A New Kind of Quagmire
* More than 210,000 of the National Guard’s330,000 soldiers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. * Guard mobilizations average 460 days. * Nearly a third of active-duty troops, 341,000men and women, have served two or more overseas tours.
Cost to Iraq
* The U.S. controls 106 military bases acrossIraq. Congress has budgeted $236 million for permanentbase construction in FY2005. * At least 23,589 to 26,705 Iraqi civilians havebeen killed. * On average 155 members of the Iraqi securityforces have died every month since the January 2005elections, up from an average of 65 before they wereheld. * Suicide attack rates rose to 50 per month in thefirst five months of 2005, up from 20 per month in2003 and 48 in 2004. * Iraq’s resistance forces remain at 16,000-40,000even with the U.S. coalition killing or capturing1,600 resistance members per month.
And the World’s Less Safe
* The State Department reported that the number of“significant” terrorist attacks reached a record 655in 2004, up from 175 in 2003. * The Iraq War has weakened the UN’s authority andcredibility.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE IRAQ QUAGMIRE
I. Costs to the United States
A. Human Costs to the U.S. and Allies
U.S. Military Deaths: Between the start of waron March 19, 2003 and August 22, 2005 2,060 coalitionforces have been killed, including 1,866 U.S. militarypersonnel.
Over 14,065 U.S. troops have been wounded,13,523 (96 percent) since May 1, 2003.
Contractor Deaths: There have been 255civilian contractor deaths since the “end of majorcombat” on May 1, 2003, including 91 identified asAmericans.
Journalist Deaths: Sixty-six internationalmedia workers have been killed in Iraq as of August28, 2005. U.S. forces are responsible for at leasteleven deaths, including employees from ABC, CNN,Reuters, BBC, ITN, Arab TV stations al-Arabiya andal-Jazeera and Spanish station Telecinco.
B. Security Costs
Terrorist Recruitment and Action: The StateDepartment found that the number of “significant”international terrorist attacks in 2004 reached 655,three times the previous record of 175 in 2003.Terrorist incidents in Iraq also increased by a factorof nine—from 22 attacks in 2003 to 198 in 2004.
Overstretch of Military: Since 2001, the U.S.military has deployed more than 1 million troops forthe wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 341,000 ornearly a third, serving two or more overseas tours. InAugust 2005 Army recruitment remained at 11 percentbehind its yearly goal. The Reserve stands at 20percent behind its goals and the Army National Guardis 23 percent short of its goals.
Security Costs Due to Loss of FirstResponders: Roughly 48,000 members of the NationalGuard and Reserve are currently serving in Iraq—makingup nearly 35 percent of the total U.S. forces there.Their deployment puts a particularly heavy burden ontheir home communities because many are “firstresponders,” including police officers, firefighters,and emergency medical personnel. For example, 44percent of the country’s police forces have lostofficers to Iraq. In some states, the absence of somany Guard troops has raised concerns about theability to handle fires and other natural disasters.
Use of Private Military Contractors: TheDepartment of Defense estimates that there are atleast 60 private security providers with perhaps asmany as 25,000 employees.
Of the 44 incidents of abuse that have beendocumented at Abu Ghraib prison,16 have been tied toprivate contractors. While numerous soldiers have beencourtmartialed for their roles in the scandal, nocontractor has been brought up on charges.
C. Economic Costs
The Bill So Far: Congress has already approvedfour spending bills for Iraq with funds totaling$204.4 billion and is in the process of approving a“bridge fund” for $45.3 billion to cover operationsuntil another supplemental spending package can bepassed, most likely slated for Spring 2006. Brokendown per person in the United States, the cost so faris $727, making the Iraq War the most expensivemilitary effort in the last 60 years.
Long-term Impact on U.S. Economy: In August2005, the Congressional Budget Office estimated thatthe cost of continuing the wars in Iraq andAfghanistan at current levels would nearly double theprojected federal budget deficit over the next tenyears. According to current estimates, during thattime the cost of the Iraq War could exceed $700billion.
Economic Impact on Military Families: Sincethe beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,more than 210,000 of the National Guard’s 330,000soldiers have been called up, with an averagemobilization of 460 days. Government studies show thatabout half of all reservists and Guard members reporta loss of income when they go on active duty—typicallymore than $4,000 a year. About 30,000 small businessowners alone have been called to service and areespecially likely to fall victim to the adverseeconomic effects of military deployment.
D. Social Costs
U.S. Budget and Social Programs: TheAdministration’s FY 2006 budget, which does notinclude any funding for the Iraq War, takes a hardline with domestic spending— slashing or eliminatingmore than 150 federal programs. The $204.4 billionappropriated thus far for the war in Iraq could havepurchased any of the following desperately neededservices in our country: 46,458,805 uninsured peoplereceiving health care or 3,545,016 elementary schoolteachers or 27,093,473 Head Start places for childrenor 1,841,833 affordable housing units or 24,072 newelementary schools or 39,665,748 scholarships foruniversity students or 3,204,265 port containerinspectors.
Social Costs to the Military/Troop Morale: Asof May 2005, stop-loss orders are affecting 14,082soldiers—almost 10 percent of the entire forcesserving in Iraq with no end date set for the use ofthese orders. Long deployments and high levels ofsoldier’s stress extend to family life. In 2004, 3,325Army officer’s marriages ended in divorce—up 78percent from 2003, the year of the Iraq invasion andmore than 3.5 times the number in 2000.
Costs to Veteran Health Care: The VeteransAffairs department projected that 23,553 veteranswould return from Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005 andseek medical care. But in June 2005, the VA Secretary,Jim Nicholson, revised this number to 103,000. Themiscalculation has led to a shortfall of $273 millionin the VA budget for 2005 and may result in a loss of$2.6 billion in 2006.
Mental Health Costs: In July 2005 the Army’ssurgeon general reported that 30 percent of U.S.troops have developed stress-related mental healthproblems three to four months after coming home fromthe Iraq War. Because about 1 million American troopshave served so far in the conflicts in Iraq andAfghanistan some experts predict that the numbereventually requiring mental health treatment couldexceed 100,000.
II. Costs to Iraq
A. Human Costs to Iraqis
Iraqi Civilian Deaths: As of August 22, 2005,between 23,589 and 26,705 civilians have been killedas a direct result of the U.S. invasion and ensuingoccupation of Iraq. But the actual death toll may bemuch higher. The British medical journal, The Lancet,reported in October 2004 that Iraq suffered 98,000“excess deaths” from March 2003 to September 2004.
Iraqi Civilians Wounded: The Project onDefense Alternatives estimates the number of woundedbetween 100,000 and 120,000.
Iraqi Police and Security Forces Killed: IraqCoalition Casualty Count reports that 2,945 Iraqimilitary and police forces have been killed since thewar started while other reports estimate up to 6,000have been killed. Up until December 2004, the monthlydeath figure was 65 but in 2005 the average has been155 and the death toll reached a high of 304 in July2005.
B. Security Costs
Failure to Train Security Forces: In June 2004the State Department reported that 145,317 Iraqitroops were trained but one year later, StateDepartment reports only note an additional 35,000security forces were added to the ranks. The readinessof these troops cannot be ascertained. A March 2005GAO report noted that “the departments of State andDefense no longer report on the extent to which Iraqisecurity forces are equipped with their requiredweapons, vehicles, communications equipment, and bodyarmor.”
Rise in the Resistance: Despite 40,000-50,000deaths and arrests, the resistance continues tothrive. The number of resistance fighters in Iraqincreased from 5,000 in November 2003 to “no more than20,000” in July 2005 and Iraq’s national intelligenceservice director estimates there are more than 200,000sympathizers. Resistance attacks have risen 23 percentin the last four months. The rise in suicide attackshas skyrocketed. In 2003 there were 20, in 2004 therewere 48 and in the first five months of 2005 therehave been more than 50.
Rise in Crime: Baghdad’s central morguecounted 8,035 deaths by unnatural causes in 2004, upfrom 6,012 in 2003 and 1,800 before the war in 2002.2005 is turning out to be even deadlier with theBaghdad morgue reporting 1,100 in July 2005.
C. Economic Costs
Unemployment: Unemployment figures today rangefrom 20 percent to 60 percent. By comparison, duringthe Great Depression, U.S. unemployment peaked at 25percent. Up to 60 percent of Iraqis depend on foodhandouts and the average income has dropped from$3,000 in the 1980s to $800 in 2004.
Corporate War Profiteering: Most of Iraq’sreconstruction has been contracted out to U.S.companies, rather than experienced Iraqi firms. U.S.auditors and the media have documented numerous casesof fraud, waste, and incompetence. The most egregiousproblems are attributed to Halliburton which has beenawarded more than $10 billion in contracts. Pentagonauditors found that Halliburton failed to accountadequately for $1.8 billion in charges for feeding andhousing troops.
Iraq’s Oil Economy: Iraq’s oil productionremains stalled at levels lower than before the U.S.invasion. In 2003, Iraq’s oil production dropped to1.33 million barrels per day, down from 2.04 millionone year earlier. In July 2005, oil productionremained below pre-war levels. Iraq continues toimport half its gasoline and thousands of tons ofheating fuel, cooking gas and other refined products.
D. Social Costs
Electricity: By late July 2004, Iraq exceededits pre-war electricity levels, providing nearly 5,000megawatts of electricity across the country but sincethat date, levels have failed to improve; the averageproduction in July 2005 was 4,446 megawatts
Health: A joint Iraqi-United Nations reportreleased in May 2005 found that “the estimated numberof persons living with a chronic health problemdirectly caused by war is 223,000 ... in the ongoingwar, more children, elderly, and women have beendisabled than in previous wars.”
Environment: During the war, water and sewagesystems were destroyed, thousands of bombs weredropped leaving unexploded ordnance (UXO) strewnacross the country, and the fragile desert ecosystemwas damaged by tanks and U.S. temporary militaryoutposts. Post-war looting further contributed to thedamage. Three thousand nuclear compound storagebarrels were looted and 5,000 barrels of chemicalswere spilt, burned, or stolen. It is estimated thatmore than 12 million mines and UXO units are stillpresent.
E. Human Rights Costs
Despite problems at U.S. detention centers,the use of arbitrary arrests continues.
The average prisoner level in June 2005 was10,783, up from 7,837 at the time of the January 2005elections, and double that of the June 2004 level of5,335. The U.S. is expanding three existing facilitiesand opening a fourth, at a cost of $50 million withthe goal of being able to detain 16,000 long-termprisoners. Illustrating the problems caused bywidespread sweeps of arrests without cause, reviewprocesses indicate that six out of every 10 Iraqisarrested are released without charges.
F. Sovereignty Costs
Economic and Political Sovereignty: Despitethe January elections, the country has severelylimited political and economic independence. Thetransitional government has limited ability to reversethe 100 orders by former CPA head Paul Bremer that,among other things, allow for the privatization ofIraq’s state-owned enterprises and prohibitpreferences for domestic firms in bidding onreconstruction work.
Military Sovereignty: Currently, the U.S.operates out of approximately 106 locations across thecountry. In May 2005, plans for concentrating U.S.troops into four massive bases positionedgeographically in the North, South, East and West werereported and the most recent spending bill in Congressfor the Iraq War contained $236 million for buildingpermanent facilities.
III. Costs to the World
A. Human Costs
While Americans make up the vast majority ofmilitary and contractor personnel in Iraq, otherU.S.-allied “coalition” troops from the U.K., Italy,Poland and other countries have suffered 194 warcasualties in Iraq. The focus on Iraq has divertedinternational resources and attention away fromhumanitarian crises such as in Sudan.
B. Disabling International Law
The unilateral U.S. decision to go to war inIraq violated the United Nations Charter, setting adangerous precedent for other countries to seize anyopportunity to respond militarily to claimed threats,whether real or contrived, that must be “preempted.”
The U.S. military has also violated the GenevaConvention, making it more likely that in the future,other nations will ignore these protections in theirtreatment of civilian populations and detainees.
C. Undermining the United Nations
The efforts of the Bush administration to gainUN acceptance of an Iraqi government that was notelected but rather installed by occupying forcesundermines the entire notion of national sovereigntyas the basis for the UN Charter.
D. Enforcing Coalitions
Faced with opposition in the UN SecurityCouncil, the U.S. government attempted to create theillusion of multilateral support for the war bypressuring other governments to join a so-called“Coalition of the Willing.” This not only circumventedUN authority, but also undermined democracy in manycoalition countries, where public opposition to thewar was as high as 90 percent. As of the middle ofJuly 2005, only 26 countries of the original 45members of the “Coalition of the Willing” had eventoken forces in Iraq, in addition to the UnitedStates.
E. Costs to the Global Economy
The $204.4 billion spent by the U.S.government on the war could have cut world hunger inhalf and covered HIV/AIDS medicine, childhoodimmunization and clean water and sanitation needs ofthe developing world for almost three years.
F. Undermining Global Security and Disarmament
The U.S.-led war and occupation havegalvanized international terrorist organizations,placing people not only in Iraq but around the worldat greater risk of attack.
Global Increase in Military Spending: In 2002world military spending was $795 billion. With theskyrocketing costs of the war in Iraq, worldwidemilitary spending soared to an estimated $956 billionin 2003 and in 2004, the figure spiked again to $1.035trillion.
G. Global Environmental Costs
U.S.-fired depleted uranium weapons havecontributed to pollution of Iraq’s land and water,with inevitable spillover effects in other countries.The heavily polluted Tigris River, for example, flowsthrough Iraq, Iran and Kuwait.
H. Human Rights
The Justice Department memo assuring the WhiteHouse that torture was legal stands in stark violationof the International Convention Against Torture (ofwhich the United States is a signatory). This,combined with the widely publicized mistreatment ofIraqi prisoners by U.S. military and intelligenceofficials, gave new license for torture andmistreatment by governments around the world.

5) Here's another op-ed about NPT:
Comment
Bush is the real threat
Tony Benn(Minister in very many British labor governments -Salil)
Wednesday August 31, 2005The Guardian
Now that the US president has announced that he hasnot ruled out an attack on Iran, if it does not abandon its nuclear programme, the Middle East faces a crisis that could dwarf even the dangers arising from the war in Iraq. Even a conventional weapon fired at a nuclear research centre - whether or not a bomb was being made there - would almost certainly release radioactivity into the atmosphere, withconsequences seen worldwide as a mini-Hiroshima.
We would be told that it had been done to uphold theprinciples of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) - an argument that does not stand up to a moment's examination.
The moral and legal basis of the NPT convention, whichthe International Atomic Energy Agency is there to uphold, was based on the agreement of non-nuclear nations not to acquire nuclear weapons if nuclear powers undertook not to extend nuclear arsenals and negotiate to secure their abolition.
Since then, the Americans have launched a programmethat would allow them to use nuclear weapons in space, nuclear bunker-busting bombs are being developed, and depleted uranium has been used in Iraq - all of which are clear breaches of the NPT.
Israel, which has a massive nuclear weapons programme, is accepted as a close ally of the US, which still arms and funds it.
Even those who are opposed, as I am, to nuclearweapons in every country including Iran, North Korea, Britain and the US, accept that nuclear power for electricity generation need not necessarily lead to the acquisition of the bomb.
Indeed, many years ago, when the shah - who had beenput on the throne by the US - was in power in Iran, enormous pressure was put on me, as secretary of state for energy, to agree to sell nuclear power stations to him. That pressure came from the AtomicEnergy Authority, in conjunction with Westinghouse, who were anxious to promote their own design of reactor.
It is easy to understand why president Bush might seethe bombing of Iran as a way to regain some of the political credibility he has lost as a result of the growing hostility in America to the Iraq war due to the heavy casualties suffered by US forces there .
It is inconceivable that the White House can becontemplating an invasion of Iran, and what must be intended is a US airstrike, or airstrikes, on Iranian nuclear installations, comparable to Israel's bombing of Iraq in 1981. Israel has publicly hinted that it might do the same again to prevent Iran developing nuclear nuclear weapons.
Such an attack, whether by the US or Israel, would bein breach of the UN Charter, as was the invasion of Iraq. But neither Bush, Sharon nor Blair would take any notice of that.
Some influential Americans appear to be convinced thatthe US will attack Iran. Whether they are right or not, the build-up to a new war is taking exactly the same form as it did in 2002.
First, we are being told that Iran poses a military threat, because it may be developing nuclear weapons. We are assured that the President is hoping that diplomacy might succeed through the Europeannegotiations which have been in progress for some months.
This is just what we were told when Hans Blix was inBaghdad talking to Saddam on behalf of the UN, but we now know, from a Downing Street memorandum leaked some months ago, that the decision to invade had been taken long before that.
That may be the position now, and I fear that if a USattack does take place, the prime minister will give it his full support. And one of his reasons for doing so will be the same as in Iraq: namely the fear that, if he alienates Bush, Britain's so-called ndependent deterrent might be taken away. For, as I also learnedwhen I was energy secretary, Britain is entirely dependent on the US for the supply of our Trident warheads and associated technology. They cannot even be targeted unless the US switches on its globalsatellite system.
Therefore Britain could be assisting America to commitan act of aggression under the UN Charter, which could risk a major nuclear disaster, and doing so supposedly to prevent nuclear proliferation, with the real motive of making it possible for us tocontinue to break the NPT in alliance with America.
The irony is that we might be told that Britain mustsupport Bush, yet again, because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction, thus allowing him to kill even more innocent civilians.
· Tony Benn will be talking about War; Religion andpolitics; and Democracy, at the Shaw Theatre in London on September 7, 8 and 9
Tony@tbenn.fsnet.co.uk
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005
5) Noah Feldman's take on this some sort of constitution:
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/30/opinion/30feldman.html?ei=5040&en=4aeb8c9a7b8b5fb7&ex=11&oref=login

6) Uncle Sam trying to bribe its way through the quagmire:
http://www.focus-fen.net/index.php?catid=138&newsid=71234&ch=0&datte=2005-08-30

7) Here's a little tidbit, ironic to say the least:
Standard Form 86 - Questionnaire for NationalSecurity Positions is printed by Unicor Federal Prison Industries, Inc. in Leavenworth, Kansas

8) A little op-ed by Monbiot, on the models for democracy:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1558962,00.html
How to stop civil war
Nicaragua and South Africa, not the US, should be theinspiration for the people framing Iraq's constitution
George MonbiotTuesday August 30, 2005The Guardian
Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow ofoccupation. Whatever the parliamentarians in Iraq doto try to prevent total meltdown, their efforts arecompromised by the fact that their power grows fromthe barrel of someone else's gun. When George Bushpicked up the phone last week to urge the negotiatorsto sign the constitution, he reminded Iraqis thattheir representatives - though elected - remain theadministrators of his protectorate. While US andBritish troops stay in Iraq, no government there canmake an undisputed claim to legitimacy. Nothing can beresolved in that country until our armies leave.This is by no means the only problem confronting thepeople who drafted Iraq's constitution. The refusal bythe Shias and the Kurds to make serious compromises onfederalism, which threatens to deprive the central,Sunni-dominated areas of oil revenues, leaves theSunnis with little choice but to reject the agreementin October's referendum. The result could be civilwar.
Can anything be done? It might be too late. But itseems to me that the transitional assembly has onelast throw of the dice. This is to abandon theconstitution it has signed, and Bush's self-servingtimetable, and start again with a different democraticdesign.
The problem with the way the constitution was producedis the problem afflicting almost all the world'sdemocratic processes. The deliberations were back tofront. First the members of the constitutionalcommittee, shut inside the green zone, argue overevery dot and comma; then they present the whole thing(25 pages in English translation) to the people for ayes or no answer. The question and the answer aremeaningless.
All politically conscious people, having particularinterests and knowing that perfection in politics isimpossible, will, on reading a complex document likethis, see that it is good in some places and bad inothers. They might recognise some articles as beingbad for them but good for society as a whole; theymight recognise others as being good or bad for almosteveryone. What then does yes or no mean?
Let me be more precise. How, for example, could anyoneagree with both these statements, from articles 2 and19 respectively? "Islam is the official religion ofthe state and is a basic source of legislation: no lawcan be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules ofIslam." (In other words, the supreme authority in lawis God.) "The judiciary is independent, with no powerabove it other than the law."
Or both these, from articles 14 and 148? "Iraqis areequal before the law without discrimination because ofsex, ethnicity, nationality, origin, colour, religion,sect, belief, opinion or social or economic status";"Members of the presidential council must ... haveleft the dissolved party [the Ba'ath] at least 10years before its fall if they were members in it."
Faced with such contradictions, no thoughtful electorcan wholly endorse or reject this document. Of course,this impossible choice is what we would haveconfronted (but at 10 times the length and a hundredtimes the complexity) had we been asked to vote on theEuropean constitution. The yes or no question put tous would have been just as stupid, and just as just asstupefying. It treats us like idiots and - because wecannot refine our responses - reduces us to idiots.But while it would have merely enhanced our sense ofalienation from the European project, for the Iraqisthe meaninglessness of the question could be a matterof life and death. If there is not a widespread senseof public ownership of the country's politicalprocesses, and a widespread sense that politicaldifferences can be meaningfully resolved by democraticmeans, this empowers those who seek to resolve themotherwise.
Last week George Bush, echoed on these pages by BillClinton's former intelligence adviser Philip Bobbitt,compared the drafting process in Baghdad to theconstruction of the American constitution. If theybelieve that the comparison commends itself to thepeople of Iraq, they are plainly even more out oftouch than I thought. But it should also be obviousthat we now live in more sceptical times. When the USconstitution was drafted, representative democracy wasa radical and thrilling idea. Now it is an object ofsuspicion and even contempt, as people all over theworld recognise that it allows us to change themanagement but not the firm. And one of the factorsthat have done most to engender public scepticism isthe meaninglessness of the only questions we are everasked. I read Labour's manifesto before the lastelection and found good and bad in it. But whether Ivoted for or against, I had no means to explain what Iliked and what I didn't.
Does it require much imagination to see the linkbetween our choice of meaningless absolutes and theManichean worldview our leaders have evolved? We mustdecide at elections whether they are right or wrong -about everything. Should we then be surprised whenthey start talking about good and evil, friend andfoe, being with them or against them?
Almost two years ago Troy Davis, ademocracy-engineering consultant, pointed out that ifa constitutional process in Iraq was to engender trustand national commitment, it had to "promote a cultureof democratic debate". Like Professor Vivian Hart, ofthe University of Sussex, he argued that it shoulddraw on the experiences of Nicaragua in 1986, where100,000 people took part in townhall meetingsreviewing the draft constitution, and of South Africa,where the public made 2 million submissions to thedrafting process. In both cases, the sense of publicownership this fostered accelerated the process ofreconciliation. Not only is your own voice heard inthese public discussions, but you must also hearothers. Hearing them, you are confronted with the needfor compromise.
But when negotiations are confined to the green zone'sblack box, the Iraqis have no sense that the processbelongs to them. Because they are not asked toparticipate, they are not asked to understand whereother people's interests lie and how they might beaccommodated. And when the whole thing goes belly up,it will be someone else's responsibility. If Iraqfalls apart over the next couple of years, it wouldnot be unfair, among other factors, to blame the factthat Davis and Hart were ignored. For the people whodesigned Iraq's democratic processes, history stoppedin 1787.
Deliberative democracy is not a panacea. You can havefake participatory processes just as you can have fakerepresentative ones. But it is hard to see whyrepresentation cannot be tempered by participation.Why should we be forbidden to choose policies, ratherthan just parties or entire texts? Can we not betrusted? If not, then what is the point of elections?The age of purely representative democracy is surelyover. It is time the people had their say.
www.monbiot.com

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