Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Will James Madison Save Us?

As I remarked yesterday, our leaders seem to be relying on Ayatollah Sistani to save us from the creation of a theocracy in Iraq. This article reports one piece of good news: Sistani has vowed not to involve himself directly in the drafting of the Iraqi constitution. But Sistani also declared that the constitution "should respect the Islamic cultural identity of the Iraqi people"—whatever that means.

The man who will really save American policy in Iraq is James Madison—the father of the US Constitution, who explained (The Federalist, No. 10) that the best protection for liberty is to counter-balance factions against one another, preventing any one group from imposing its will on the others. In Iraq, it is beginning to look like the relatively secular Kurds will serve as the crucial counterbalance to the Shiite Islamists.

"Ballot Strength Leads Kurds to Press a Role as Deal Makers," Edward Wong, New York Times, 2/9/05

"If current election returns hold, the relatively secular Kurds may prove a necessary coalition partner, putting them in a position to limit any attempts by religious Shiites to install an Islamic government.... American officials have long considered the Kurds to be their closest allies in Iraq, partly because the Kurds, mostly Sunni Muslims, are generally less religiously observant than Arabs here. As the country moves toward a new government and constitution, the Americans will likely find themselves depending on the Kurds to act as a check on conservative Islamic politicians. The Kurds' confidence in their political muscle has grown tremendously since Monday, when it became apparent they are likely to have the second-largest bloc in the 275-seat constitutional assembly, and possibly the most cohesive and most courted. Because forming a new government will require a two-thirds vote, and because it seems unlikely the main Shiite slate will get such a majority, the Kurds may become an essential coalition partner....

"The electoral commission announced Monday that the main Kurdish coalition had 25 percent of the votes tallied so far, behind the leading Shiite slate of candidates but well ahead of other parties. About 4.6 million of an estimated 8 million votes have been counted.... Of all the political groups, the Kurds, who make up one-fifth of the population, are the most organized, and their coalition has a much better chance of holding together in the national assembly than the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite religious slate assembled by Ayatollah Sistani."