Sunday, June 27, 2004

Breme'rs 'fatwas' for Iraq

The US has bound the interim government of
Iraq in a series of mandatory restrictions in an
attempt to keep it as a puppet in American hands after
this week's transfer of sovereignty. Effectively,
these restrictions are nothing but legalised
colonialisation, critics say.
Nearly 150 Americans are installed in key positions in
various ministries and departments on five-year
contracts that could not be nullified by the interim
government. These officials have virtual veto power
over any decision taken by the concerned ministries
and departments. Their contracts could be anulled only
by a two-third majority of a to-be installed national
assembly of 100 Iraqis who would be named at a
national conference to be held in July.
In addition, Paul Bremer, the American overseer who
would leave office on Wednesday, has also named more
than 20 Iraqis to jobs that he describes as aimed at
checking corruption and ensuring transparency of
governance. In essence, these Iraqis are seen as
American stooges whose job is to impose and promote
the American concept of governance that hardly match
the realities on the ground in Iraq and the
peculiarities of a Middle Eastern Arab Muslim society.
Bremer has signed nearly 100 decrees — which his
critics have nicknameded "fatwas" (edicts) —  that are
obviously aimed at restricting the interim government
from taking or implementing any decision that runs
contrary to the American-designed shape of Iraq. These
"edicts" could be overturned only by a majority of
members of the interim cabinet as well as the
president and two vice-presidents. Given that most
members of the interim government are US-picked and
are bound to Washington one way or another, this is an
insurance that the "edicts" remain in place even if
some in the interim government might not approve them.

Among the most controversial of the "edicts" are:
-- a suspension of the death penalty.
-- an election law that a seven-member panel that
wields a veto power against any political party and
candidate in elections.
-- one of every three candidates of any recognised
political party must be a woman.
-- formation of committees that have sweeping powers
over communications, the media, and the stock market.
-- a commission which will have the authority to send
government officials, including members of the interim
cabinet, for trial on corruption charges.
-- a ban on former members of the Iraqi army from
holding public office for 18 months after their
retirement or resignation.
-- punishments of up to 30 years in jail for those
convicted of selling weapons.
-- a ban on former militiamen from being absorbed to
the Iraqi military and from campaigning for election
Some of Bremer's edits are "administrative" in nature.
These include:
-- an anti-money laundering law that mandatorily
subjects to scrutiny any transaction involving $3,500.
-- an industrial-design law to protect microchip
-- a ceiling of 15 per cent on any tax.
-- a ban on violation of intellectual property laws.
-- a ban on employment of anyone under the age of 15.
A scrutiny of Bremer's "edicts" will show that few of
them are compatible with the way of life in Iraq.
For instance, the suspension of the death penalty is
imposed on a country where tribal feuds are settled
through the barrel of a gun on the "an-eye-for-an-eye"
principle of the desert. Therefore, if the judiciary
does not have the authority to order the execution of
a convicted murderer, then the tribes would seek to
settle the score by killing the murderer or even a key
member of his or her clan as revenge even before the
issue goes to court.
The proposed ban on political parties has already
drawn protests, with Iraqis saying that why should an
American-imposed body have the right to veto parties
and candicates in elections in Iraq.
While the Saddam Hussein regime was liberal in
approach to women and given women broad rights,
Iraqis, as other Arab Muslims of conservative
societies, will resent the imposition of a
one-in-three quota for women candidates in elections.
The 30-year mandatory punishment for weapon sellers
will immediately be rejected since almost every
household in Iraq has more than a firearm. Often, such
weapons are sold by families as last-resort means.
Therefore a ban on selling a weapon and such a high
penalty could never be accepted by Iraqis.
The ban on militiamen from joining the armed forces
runs contrary to the plans of the interim government,
which has already launched a process where all
militias — except those of the Kurds in the north
— will be disbanded and absorbed into the security
The ban on children under 15 from taking up employment
will be rejected outright. In a country where there is
little employment and where many families have lost
male adults earning a livelihood, children are the
sole wage-earners. Those families will go hungry if
the children are banned from working.
The interim government is unlikely to obey Bremer's
edicts, and such an approach will pit the interim
ministers against the "agents" Bremer has put in
place. The result: A perennial state of friction that
would not bode well for the interim government to
carry out its assigned task of shaping Iraq's future.