On Thursday one of the leading Iraqi Shiite politicians called for the nine provinces in the oil-rich southern portion of the country to become an autonomous Shiite region. The announcement has raised serious questions about whether or not legislators will meet the August 15 deadline to approve a draft of a new constitution.
The Shiite politician, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, made the announcement one day after meeting with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric.
* Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, speaking in Najaf before a gathering of thousands of Shiite supporters
The move could pave the way for a Shiite-controlled federation in the south and a Kurdish-controlled federation in the north. Sunni leaders have condemned the proposal and are warning that it could lead to the breakup of Iraq. It would block Sunnis from having access to most of the country's oil resources.
* Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni and a spokesperson for the Iraqi National Dialogue
That was Sunni leader Saleh Al-Mutlaq. The role of federalism and the balance of power between the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities have been key sticking points during constitution negotiations. The U.S. had set an Aug. 15 deadline for legislators to agree on a draft constitution. To speak about the current negotiations over the constitution:
* Antonia Juhasz, activist and author of the new book, "The Bush Agenda: Invading the World One Economy at a Time"
JUAN GONZALEZ: The Shiite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim made the announcement one day after meeting with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric. Hakim, who is the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, spoke in Najaf before a gathering of thousands of Shiite supporters.
ABDUL-AZIZ AL-HAKIM: Regarding the Central Southern region, we think that it is necessary to form one entire region for Central and Southern Iraq due to the common characteristics of the residents of these parts and the unjust policies which were adopted against them. And we should not miss the chance to achieve this sacred target, and there should be constitutional guarantees to achieve this.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Shiite political leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim. The move could pave the way for a Shiite-controlled federation in the South and a Kurdish-controlled federation in the North. Sunni leaders have condemned the proposal, warning it could lead to the breakup of Iraq. It would block Sunnis from having access to most of the country’s oil resources. This is Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni and a spokesperson for the Iraqi National Dialogue.
SALEH AL-MUTLAQ: The statement has come to prove the fears of our Iraqi people and our fears that purpose of federalism is to divide Iraq into ethnic and sectarian counties.
AMY GOODMAN: Sunni leader Saleh al-Mutlaq. The role of federalism and the balance of power between the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities have been key sticking points during constitution negotiations. The U.S. had set an August 15 deadline for legislators to agree on a draft constitution. To speak about the current negotiations over the constitution, we're joined by Antonia Juhasz. She is author of the forthcoming book, The Bush Agenda: Invading the World One Economy at a Time. Welcome to Democracy Now!.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Thanks for having me. Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: It's great to have you with us. Antonia joins us in San Francisco. Can you talk about the constitution? Though the draft has been seen, it’s expected to be released on Monday, on the 15th.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yes, the first thing to say is that what has been released to the public has been very limited versions of the draft. So a lot of what we're talking about is a bit in the dark of what the exact text of the draft entails. But the negotiations have been pushed aggressively forward by the Bush administration, which is very intent on having that August 15 deadline met. But really quickly to say, the August 15 deadline, if it is not met – according to the transitional administrative law, the existing constitution – if the August 15 deadline is not met, then the National Assembly has to dissolve. So it seems highly unlikely that that deadline will not be met. The Bush administration wants to keep everything right on track so that it can show that it is achieving all of its stated goals in Iraq and that everything is moving along on schedule. One of the problems, however, is that the Bush administration has also been very good at making sure that its own particularly economic and political agenda remains on track in Iraq and will not be altered by the constitution or the negotiations over the constitution, and if the drafts that we have seen prove to be correct, that will probably be the outcome, unfortunately.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what's been the role of the U.S. ambassador to Iraq on this issue?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Well, Khalilzad has taken a very upfront and aggressive stance in the negotiations, making it very clear that the fate of the United States is linked to the fate of Iraq and the outcome of the constitution. The outspoken nature is fairly unique thus far. Khalilzad had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, basically saying what the U.S. agenda for the constitution was and making it very clear that the United States was going to continue to play an aggressive role in making sure that that agenda was met. The Bush administration has not been at all shy to make sure that the world knows that the administration intends for this constitution to meet U.S. demands and to be done on a U.S. timetable.
JUAN GONZALEZ: There's been quite a bit of attention focused on the continuing debate over the role of women, but very little on the economic aspects of the constitutional -- proposed constitutional changes. Could you talk a little bit about what is going on in terms of the economy in the constitution?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yes, essentially what has remained almost off the table are the 100 orders put in place by Paul Bremer, the U.S. envoy to Iraq during the period of the formal occupation, which essentially transitioned all of Iraq's economic laws from a state-controlled economy to a market-controlled economy. These included provisions for the privatization of all of Iraq's state-owned industries, changes to trade laws, patent laws, banking, media, you name it and it was transformed for investment so that foreign companies would have complete access to the Iraqi economy.
There was an initial draft of the constitution in Iraq that returned Iraq to a social welfare state, reflecting the original constitution that had been in place during the Hussein era, which essentially guaranteed maternal and child health benefits, child care, the role of the state in guaranteeing education, that natural resources belonged to the state, etc. That draft was essentially eviscerated and the current draft puts all of that back into the market and probably most importantly makes the condition of natural resources far more difficult to determine what the outcome is going to be for Iraq's oil.
At the same time as the negotiations are moving forward on the constitution, an oil law is set to come into force in Iraq, a new national oil law that eliminates the nationalization, the state control of Iraq's oil, opens up the oil sector to private foreign investment and essentially guarantees the ability of U.S. companies to have at minimum significantly greater access to Iraq's oil.
AMY GOODMAN: Antonia, can you talk more about women in Iraq? Interestingly in our next segment, we'll go to Cindy Sheehan, the American mother who's sitting outside President Bush’s ranch, whose son Casey died in Iraq. You talk a great deal about women in Iraq, what their situation is today.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Well, the situation for women in Iraq is tenuous, but one of the issues that I don't think is addressed enough is the fact that because the U.S. reconstruction had been so biased towards U.S. corporations and not focusing on what Iraqis need, the conditions, with the lack of water, the lack of electricity, the lack of health care, of course, falls disproportionately onto women and the need to provide those resources themselves and to make sure that their families have access to those resources. So women in Iraq lives have been more dominated by the need to just meet their basic family subsistence needs.
Women's rights in Iraq under Hussein had been some of the best, certainly in the Middle East, and had been guaranteed, as I said, under the Hussein era constitution. Now much of that is very much up in play as the negotiations seem to be putting significantly more attention onto Islamic law. There is however a very powerful women's rights movement in Iraq that is fighting very aggressively to stem that tide, and that is certainly an issue that is still up in the air, and we'll have to wait until Monday to find out what happens.
JUAN GONZALEZ: What about these calls for Shiite autonomy in the South? What do you see as the prospects for that, or for that scuttling the entire constitution, the effort to get it out by Monday?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: As I said, I find it would be very difficult to see the constitution not being completed on the 15th, as those in power do not want to lose power by having the entire government dissolved on the 15th. What I think the Shiite call is for is: How will federalism be defined in Iraq? The Kurds have made very clear that they want to have their own autonomous region. These are not proposals for the dissolving of Iraq into separate countries. It's more along the lines of how will the lines of the regional authority be determined? So the Sunnis are certainly very concerned at the idea of essentially Iraq's oil being put in the hands of the Shiites in one region and the Kurds in another. However, you could still have federal authority divided along the very same lines that are being put forward by the Shiites right now and have a national law that would distribute the oil wealth in a fair manner and authority over the oil in a fair manner.
I think what we're seeing right now is in the days leading up to the conclusion of the negotiations, each of the power bodies that play in Iraq, stating their most aggressive and desired stance, so that they will be on record for that. And then whatever happens on Monday happens on Monday. Then there's a several-month process before October 15th, when a referendum will be had on the constitution, in which hopefully a public debate will be able to be had, and the public will therefore be informed on the positions of their political leaders. I think for any of that to make any sense and to actually move forward in any sort of democratic means, the U.S. military invasion and the economic invasion will have to end for there to be any real discussion to see what these positions really mean and what the public really has at its access to have any sort of say in what the constitution will ultimately mean for them.
AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz, I want to thank you very much for joining us in San Francisco. She is the author of the forthcoming book, The Bush Agenda: Invading the World One Economy at a Time.