Last June, an Iraqi newspaper published what was then the latest draft of the constitution being negotiated by Iraqi politicians. Its contents revealed that the Iraqis wanted to build a Scandinavian-style welfare system in the Arabian desert, with Iraq’s vast oil wealth to be spent upholding every Iraqi’s right to education, health care, housing, and other social services. “Social justice is the basis of building society,” the draft declared.
In other words, the Iraqis wanted nothing of the kind of economic and political system that US officials have been attempting to create in Iraq since the end of the war. As direct occupiers, the US enacted the so-called Bremer Laws. These give foreign investors equal rights to Iraqis in the domestic market; permit the full repatriation of profits; envisage the sale of state-owned companies; and privatise all kinds of social services – all of which could have been rendered unconstitutional under the June draft.
Enter Zalmay Khalilzad, the newly appointed US ambassador who was accused of serving as the “campaign manager” of pro-US candidate Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan’s presidential elections. Khalilzad was a permanent fixture behind the closed doors where the real constitutional debates took place, and was described by the Financial Times as playing a “big role in the negotiations”. He was backed up by US embassy officials, who, according to the Washington Post, were working from a Kurdish party headquarters to “help type up the draft and translate changes from English to Arabic for Iraqi lawmakers”. At one point, Khalilzad’s team of US diplomats even offered their own proposed text of the constitution to the Iraqis.
One Kurdish member of the constitutional committee who was involved in the caucuses complained: “The Americans say they don’t intervene, but they have intervened deep.” Nor were they acting as neutral mediators. US and UK officials, he said, were “being governed by their domestic agenda”.
While Khalilzad and his team of US and British diplomats were all over the scene, some members of Iraq’s constitutional committee were reduced to bystanders. One Shiite member grumbled, “We haven’t played much of a role in drafting the constitution. We feel that we have been neglected.” A Sunni negotiator concluded: “This constitution was cooked up in an American kitchen not an Iraqi one.”
By the time the next draft constitution was leaked in late July, the progressive provisions in the June draft had disappeared. Gone was the article proclaiming a commitment to social justice as the basis of the economy. In its place was a provision binding the state to “reforming the Iraqi economy according to modern economic bases, in a way that ensures complete investment of its resources, diversifying its sources and encouraging and developing the private sector”. Instead of revoking the so-called Bremer Laws, the new draft constitution would make Iraqis constitutionally bound to enforce them.
Also gone was the provision obliging the state to safeguard Iraq’s oil. Instead, Article 110 of the draft constitution lays the ground for selling off oil assets by obliging the state to “draw up the necessary strategic policies to develop oil and gas wealth to bring the greatest benefit for the Iraqi people, relying on the most modern techniques of market principles and encouraging investment.” By “modern techniques of market principles”, the draft is referring to current plans – supported by the interim government’s top leadership – to privatise the Iraqi National Oil Company and to open up Iraq’s oil reserves to the big oil corporations.
The constitution paves the way for the eventual acquisition of Iraqi assets by foreigners or multinational corporations. While the June draft stated that “Iraqis have the complete and unconditional right of ownership in all areas without limitation”, the final draft drops the words “unconditional” and “without limitation” and adds instead the qualification “except what is exempted by law”. Given that Bremer’s Order 39 already allows foreign ownership of Iraqi assets and that this order will be perpetuated as a law, the constitution in effect removes the restriction giving Iraqis exclusive ownership over assets in Iraq.
The June draft promises extensive welfare commitments to Iraqis, including free education and free health care. A subsequent draft says that welfare services will be provided – but only if the government can afford them. The final draft gives vague assurances that the services will be delivered, but this time it adds new wording on the private sector’s role in delivering them.
Iraq’s constitution is critical because, as the basic law of the land, it establishes the fundamental legal foundation on which Iraq’s neoliberal edifice is to be built. The media has tended to focus on the sectarian provisions of the constitution and ignored the insertion of economic provisions. But what most likely happened was that the US tolerated the adoption of religious provisions and agreed to the establishment of a federal system, as demanded by the Shia and Kurdish parties, in exchange for the introduction of neoliberal economic provisions in the constitution.
In the quid-pro-quo, investors’ rights trumped women’s rights and social justice. The June draft provides a hint as to what kind of constitution the Iraqis might have chosen if they had been left to their own devices.Herbert Docena (Herbertat] focusweb.org) is a researcher with [Focus on the Global South, who has been following the reconstruction and political transition in Iraq. A longer version of this report was published at www.atimes.com
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram
Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope
New Cross fights new wave of housing privatisation
Lewisham residents object to a new trend in local authority housing developments
Stand-off with prison profiteers at the Tower of London
Marienna Pope-Weidemann reports on disruption at the European Custody and Detention Summit