To the Teacher:
On October 15, 2005, Iraqis will vote on a new constitution. They will do so in a country where many reconstruction projects are underway or have been completed and a violent insurgency kills and destroys daily. Two readings for students cover: 1) the new constitution with a focus on certain key provisions and 2) everyday life in Iraq. The materials conclude with a Document-Based Question (DBQ) on the situation in Iraq viewed from different perspectives.
Included in the lesson below:
- Student Reading 1: The New Constitution
- Discussion for Reading 1
- Student Reading 2: Everyday Life In Iraq
- Discussion for Reading 2
- DBQ: Perspectives on Iraq
Student Reading 1:
The New Constitution
Suggested assignment: After reading "The New Constitution," have students write three carefully worded questions they think are worth class discussion.
On August 28, 2005, as the insurgency continued to rage, Iraqi leaders presented a final draft of a new Iraqi constitution to the country's new National Assembly. On October 15, Iraqi voters will determine whether the constitution will become official. If two-thirds of the people in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces vote against it, it's back to the drawing board: New elections for a National Assembly will take place in December, and the newly elected leaders will write another draft constitution. Given that most of Iraq's Sunni Muslims strongly oppose the draft constitution?as do some Shiite Muslims?defeat of the constitution is possible.
Iraq's population of about 25 million people includes a number of ethnic and religious groups, though most are Arabic-speaking Muslims. About 60 percent are Shiite Arab Muslims. Since the creation of Iraq in 1920, this majority has almost always been governed by Sunni Arab Muslims, who make up about 20 percent of the population. The non-Arab Kurds, also about 20 percent, are Muslims but are not Arab. They are also more secular (less religious) than many of the Iraqi Arabs. Shiites and Kurds were often treated murderously during the rule of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni.
As in Iraq, Shiites are also a majority of the population in neighboring Iran. Many of Iraq's current Shiite leaders lived in exile in Iran during Saddam Hussein's rule. As a result of this and rising Shiite power in the new Iraq, the country is already developing closer ties to Iran and its religious rulers.
Iran was one of three nations named by President Bush as part of "an axis of evil." (Saddam Hussein's Iraq and North Korea were the other two.) Like North Korea, Iran is strongly suspected by the U.S. and its allies in Europe of working to develop nuclear weapons.
President Bush seemed pleased with the new Iraqi constitution. "Like our own nation's founders over two centuries ago, the Iraqis are grappling with difficult issues, such as the role of the federal government," Bush said on August 27, 2005. "What is important is that Iraqis are now addressing these issues through debate and discussionónot at the barrel of a gun. The establishment of a democratic constitution in Iraq will be a landmark event in the history of the broader Middle. East. And it will bring us closer to the day when the nation of Iraq can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself....By advancing the cause of liberty in the Middle East, we will bring hope to millions and security to our own citizens. And we will lay the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren."
Below are some key provisions of the constitution and comments and questions on them:
Article 1: "The Republic of Iraq is an independent sovereign nation, and the system of rule in it is a democratic, federal, representative (parliamentary) republic."
Kurds and Shiites support a weak federalism for the country. The constitution provides the northern Kurdish provinces with semi-independence. Shiites seek a similar status in the south of Iraq, and will almost certainly have the votes in a new National Assembly in December to achieve control of nine provinces there if the constitution is approved. Under the draft constitution, those groups with "semi-independence" will have control over most governmental matters, except fiscal, foreign, and defense policies. Kurds will have the right to change most federal laws if they conflict with local laws, including federal tax legislation. The Kurds will also control over their 60,000-strong militia.
Most Sunnis oppose federalism, fearing that it will give the Shiite majority and the Kurds too much power, including power over Iraq's most oil-rich regions in the north (Kurds) and south (Shiites) of the country. Sunnis instead support a strong, centralized government.
Shiites and Kurds say that what Sunnis really want is to regain control of Iraq.
Shiites and Kurds greatly outnumbered Sunnis on the constitution committee. Sunnis are under-represented in the provisional Iraqi government, since most Sunnis boycotted the January 2005 elections for the National Assembly.
Article 2, paragraph 1: "Islam is the official religion of state and is a basic source of legislation."
(a) No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed laws of Islam.
(b) No law can be passed that contradicts the principles of democracy.
(c) No law can be passed that contradicts the basic rights and freedoms outlined in this constitution."
It is not clear exactly how "a basic source of legislation" will be interpreted. Note that the article does not say "the basic source of legislation." Does this mean other sources of legislation will be legitimate? This is unlikely because Shiite religious parties that support making Islam the basic source of legislation (such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Dawa) will probably continue to have a majority of representatives in any Iraqi government.
The "undisputed laws of Islam" is known as "Sharia" in Arabic. Sharia would allow religious authorities on the Supreme Court to question secular legislation. But Sharia is not interpreted in the same ways by all Muslim clerics.
Critics argue that under the constitution, Sharia law could be interpreted in ways that would severely restrict women's rights. For instance, they say Sharia could be interpreted to mean that women would be executed for adultery; be forced to get permission from a male family member to work or to travel; inherit half as much as their brothers; have their testimony in court counts as half that of men. Sharia could be intrepreted to require that women should be completely covered in public.
Iraqi women are worried. Safia Taleb al-Souhail, who was invited to sit next to Laura Bush at the president's State of the Union address, said of the constitution, "It's a big disappointment."
Articles 14 through 37 guarantee a series of basic rights. Among them:
- "equality before the law without discrimination because of sex, ethnicity, nationality, origin, color, religion, sect, belief, opinion or social or economic status"
- "the right to security and freedom"
- "equal opportunity"
- "the right to personal privacy"
- if accused of a crime, "innocence until his guilt is proven,"
- the right to "private property"
- the right to "social and health insurance"
- the right to "freedom and dignity"
- the right to "freedom of expressing opinions by all means"
- "freedom of the press"
- "freedom of assembly and peaceful protest"
- "freedom to establish and belong to political organizations"
A key question is, How will such freedoms be interpreted under Sharia and by whom? Despite the guarantee of "equality before the law without discrimination because of sex," there is no constitutional provision saying that women have the same rights as men. The new Afghan constitution has such a provision.
Article 39: "Iraqis are free in their adherence to their personal status according to their own religion, sect, belief and choice."
Personal status matters refer to marriage, divorce, alimony, and inheritance. Like other articles, this one appears likely to result in conflict. What happens if a Shiite woman chooses to have a divorce from her husband dealt with under civil law, but the husband wants Sharia to govern divorce proceedings? Who decides?
Article 110: "The federal government will administer oil and gas extracted from current fields in cooperation with governments of the producing regions and provinces on condition that the revenues will be distributed fairly in a manner compatible with the demographic distribution all over the country."
Oil is not only Iraq's main source of revenue, it is almost Iraq's only source of revenue. The most significant "governments of the producing regions and provinces" are in the north and south of the country. The oil-rich north will be controlled by Kurds; the oil-rich south will be controlled by Shiites. What's more, the new constitution gives the Kurds authority over any new oil and gas discoveries, and the Shiites expect to gain such authority when the next National Assembly meets.
Most Sunnis are in the central and western areas of Iraq where little oil has been found. Who will decide that revenues are being "distributed fairly" on some kind of per capita basis? Will Kurds and Shiites subvert the "fairness" principle, depriving the Sunni minority of their share of oil money? This situation is one reason why many Sunnis will vote against the constitution.
Article 145: This article describes the work of the "De-Baathification Committee."
Sunnis are angry about constitutional language they say would drive former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party out of public life. During Hussein's rule, membership in the party was virtually essential for any kind of advancementóand therefore even many people who were not fans of the Hussein regime became Baath Party members. Such people did not necessarily commit any crimes, and many of the Sunnis on the constitution committee were at some time members of the party.
Reading 1: Discussion
1. Have students read, discuss briefly and, if necessary, clarify their questions in groups of three or four. Ask each group to select what it regards as the best question from its group to write on the chalkboard. The "best question" is one which, if answered well, would promote student understanding of the draft constitution or the wider situation in Iraq.
2. Before proceeding with student responses to the questions, subject the questions to analysis with the class. See "the doubting game" section of "Teaching Critical Thinking" on this website for details.
3. What is the difference between a federal government and a centralized government? This question offers the opportunity for students to consider the federal nature of the US government. How does it compare with the proposed Iraqi government?
4. What seem to be the greatest strengths of the Iraqi constitution? Weaknesses? Why?
Student Reading 2:
Everyday life in Iraq
What is life like on the streets of Iraq? The reports give a complex picture.
According to some reports, a great deal of progress has been made in rebuilding Iraq. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) maintains an updated website where it reports regularly on agency-supported projects in Iraq aimed at improving the everyday life of Iraqis (www.usaid.gov). As of August 25, 2005, USAID said its accomplishments included:]
- Creating more than 77,000 public works jobs
- Training of 116 bankers
- Reopening of the Iraqi Stock Exchange
- Introducing farmers to new techniques and technologies
- Furnishing and equipping computer centers
- Establishing date palm orchards
- Developing processes necessary to enforce laws
- Supporting the process necessary for adoption of the Iraqi constitution
- Committing $2.5 million for education of Iraqis on democratic processes
- Awarding $15.5 million to strengthen the delivery of core municipal services
- Committing more than $135 million for more than 3,300 projects, including
- improvement of water supply and sanitation services
- Rehabilitating 2,564 schools
- Distributing hundreds of thousands of desks, chairs, chalkboards, etc. for schools
- Training 32,7000 secondary school teachers and administrators
- Rehabilitating 72 health facilities
- Vaccinating more than 3,000 women and children against measles
Completing many other projects, including seaport rehabilitation, reconstituting the Baghdad telephone system, rebuilding major bridges and portions of the railway system and ensuring food security.
In the Wall Street Journal, Arthur Chrenkoff regularly reports "a roundup of the past two weeks' good news from Iraq," which, on 8/30/05, was prefaced by a comment from an American major:
"The thing I want people to understand is that they only hear those one or two instances in the country that are negative. You don't really hear about the hundred things that have gone good."
?Major Joe Leahy, civil engineer with the US Army's Engineer Brigade at Camp Victory outside of Baghdad since November 2004
The Wall Street Journal's list of "good news" items includes:
- Strong efforts by Sunni clerics to promote voting in cities like Falluja
- Help from such countries as Denmark and Italy to preserve Iraq's heritage
- "A skyline dotted with cranes" for construction in Suleimaniya
- Religious tourism helping the economy in Najaf
- A program for economic cooperation between Baghdad and Sweden
- Increase in the number of international flights to and from Iraq
- Reconstruction in Baghdad of its telecommunications infrastructure
- Planning for health facilities in the Baghdad slum, Sadr City
- Completion of eight new schools in Wassif and Babil provinces
- $2 million allocated for "a reliable source of water for Basra"
- "Iraq's most vulnerable and needy" getting help from UN World Food Program
- An international medical team in Iraq to provide field station surgeries
- Renovations completed at the Najaf teaching hospital
- Completion of training for first batch of Iraqi soldiers in Britain
Despite all this reported progress, there has been plenty of bad news coming from Iraq. A few reports from reliable sources are below:
1. (Washington Post, 8/14/05) "Many of Baghdad's six million people go without electricity for days in 120-degree heat. Parents fearful of kidnapping are keeping children indoors. Barbers post signs saying they do not shave men, after months of barbers being killed by religious extremists [who view shaving as anti-Islamic]. Ethnic or religious-based militias police the northern and southern portions of Iraq. Analysts estimate that in the whole of Iraq unemployment is 50 percent to 65 percent....
"Killings of members of the Iraqi security force have tripled since January. Iraq's ministry of health estimates that bombing and other attacks have killed 4,000 civilians in the past four months. 'Attacks on US convoys by insurgents using roadside bombs have doubled over the past year,' Army Brig. Gen Yves Fontaine said.
"Lines for subsidized cheap gas stretch for miles everyday in Baghdad. Inadequate training for Iraqi staff, regional rivalries restricting the power flow to Baghdad, inadequate fuel for electrical generators and attacks on infrastructure have contributed to the worst summer of electricity shortages in the capital."
2. (New York Times, 8/15/05) "Iraq remains the most dangerous place in the world to work as a journalist, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least 13 media workers have been killed in Iraq so far this year, bringing the total to 50 since the war began in 2003. 'Postwar Iraq is fraught with risks for reporters: Banditry, gunfire and bombings are common,' the committee's website says. 'Insurgents have added a new threat by systematically targeting foreigners, including journalists, and Iraqis who work for them.'"
3. (New York Times, 7/21/05) "About half of Iraq's new police units are still in training and cannot conduct operations, while the other half of the police units and two-thirds of the new army battalions are only 'partially capable' of carrying out counterinsurgency missions, and only with American help, according to a newly declassified Pentagon assessment."
4. (New York Times, 7/7/05) "The once libertine oil port of Basra, 350 miles south of the capital and far from the insurgency raging in much of Iraq, is steadily being transformed into a mini-theocracy under Shiite rule. The growing ties with Iran are evident. Posters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Iranian revolution, are plastered along streets. Few women walk around without a head scarf and full-length black robe. A young woman said she could wear jeans without a robe a year ago. But seven months before a group of men came up to her and warned her that she was improperly dressed."
5. (New York Times, 6/24/05) "Allegations of widespread corruption have dogged the Iraqi government since the invasion in 2003, when billions of dollars for reconstruction and training began pouring into the country. The abuses range from sweetheart deals on leases, to exorbitant contracts for things like garbage hauling, to payments for construction that was never done."
6. (New York Times, 6/24/05) "The top American commander for the Middle East said Thursday that the insurgency in Iraq had not diminished. Gen. John P. Abizaid said that more foreign fighters were coming into Iraq and the insurgency's overall strength is 'about the same' as it was six months ago."
7. (New York Times, 6/22/05) "A new classified assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency says Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in Al Qaeda's early days, because it is serving as a real-world laboratory for militants to improve their skills in urban combat. The officials said it made clear the view that the war in Iraq was likely to produce a dangerous legacy, by dispersing to other countries Iraqi and foreign combatants more adept and better organized than they were before the conflict."
8. (Washington Post, 8/21/050) "Shiite and Kurdish militias, often operating as part of Iraqi government security forces, have carried out a wave of abductions, assassinations and other acts of intimidation, consolidating their control over territory across northern and southern Iraq and deepening the country's divide along ethnic and sectarian lines, according to political leaders, families of the victims, human rights activists and Iraqi officials.
"In Basra in the south, dominated by the Shiites, and Mosul in the north, ruled by the Kurds, as well as cities and villages around them, many residents have said they are powerless before the growing sway of the militias, which instill a climate of fear that many see as redolent of the era of former president Saddam Hussein."
9. Nearly 1,000 Shiite religious pilgrims died and many others were injured in a stampede on a Baghdad bridge on August 31, 2005. Early in the religious procession insurgents fired mortars and rockets near a shrine, killing seven and wounding others. Soon afterward, on a bridge packed with people, a rumor about a possible suicide bomber attack swept the crowd, setting off the fatal stampede.
10. (New York Times, 9/17/05) "A senior Central Command officer said insurgents had detonated over 300 bombs so far this year. The officer said insurgents had launched 65 to 75 attacks a day against coalition forces in Iraq?30 to 35 of them in Baghdad aloneóa number that had remained steady for two months until this week's attacks (a wave of well-coordinated car bombings)."
11. (New York Times, 9/18/05) "The United States has poured more than $200 million into reconstruction projects in this city.... Najaf is widely cited by the military as one of the success stories in that effort.... There are some successes. The Army Corps of Engineers has finished refurbishing several police and fire stations.... It is spending tens of thousands of dollars to refurbish crumbling schools and has replaced aging clay water pipes in the suburb of Kufa with more durable plastic ones. It is even spending half a million dollars to renovate the city's soccer stadium, putting in new lights and laying fresh sod.
"But in a series of interviews, American military officers and Iraqi officials involved in the reconstruction described a pattern of failures and frustrations that Army officers who have worked in other parts of Iraq say are routine. Residents complain that many of the city's critical needs remain unfulfilled and the Army concedes that many projects it has financed are far behind schedule. Officers with the American military say that corruption and poor oversight are largely to blame."
Reading 2: Discussion
What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?
US forces have been in Iraq for two-and-a-half years since the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. This reading provides a decidedly mixed picture of what is taking place in that country.
Have students in groups of three or four discuss how, on balance, they would judge the state of affairs in Iraq today. Each group might have a facilitator to make sure that each person has an opportunity to speak and a reporter to summarize major points for the class.
Have the students begin by giving each person in the group two minutes to present his or her viewpoint with the evidence for it. Following each student's comments, the group might ask clarifying questions. After everyone has had an opportunity to speak, allow another 10-15 minutes for further group discussion.
Following reports from each group, students might discuss the degree to which there is a consensus about the situation in Iraq today.
DBQ: Perspectives on Iraq
DBQ: This document-based question includes items A-G. Item H, alternatively, suggests using the DBQ for class discussion.
In Iraq, people have come together to write a constitution that guarantees freedom for all Iraqi citizens. The document they have produced protects fundamental human freedoms including freedom for women, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. This constitution is the result of democratic debate and compromise, and the Iraqi citizens can be proud of what they have accomplished."
?President George Bush, 8/30/05
Question: Why does George Bush think Iraqi citizens should be proud of their constitution?
I think it is over now. I want the American people to know that our dreams are gone, our work was in vain. There will be no future for our children and our grandchildren in the new Iraq. The future is for the clerics. They will lead the countryÖ.This is not the democracy we dreamed of. This is the dictatorship of the majority!
?Dr. Raja Kuzai, a female member of the Iraqi assembly's Constitution-writing committee, quoted in The Nation, 9/19/05
Question: What is one likely reason why Dr. Kuzai thinks that "The future is for the clerics"?
The draft (of the Iraqi constitution) contains far-reaching democratic and human rights commitments. It's a synthesis between Islamic traditions of the country with the universal principles of democracy and human rights, and in that sense, it sets a new path for the future. The document strives for a balance of authority among Islam, human rights and democracy."
?Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, The New York Times, 8/24/05
Question: What makes the draft Iraqi constitution something new, in Zhalilzad's opinion?
The constitution fails to adequately protect religious freedom and the rights of women. But the constitution might bring stability to Iraq, a country now on the edge of a full-scale civil warÖ.The constitution provides a basis for resolving Iraq's most contentious issues: oil, territory, and the competition to be the dominant power in BaghdadÖ.The constitution has many flaws, but it provides a peace plan that might work, and it is therefore the most positive political development in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein from power.
?Peter Galbraith, head of a firm specializing in international negotiations and a participant in many of the discussions during the writing of the Iraqi constitution, The New York Review, 10/6/05
Question: Why does Galbraith think the constitution a "positive political development"?
The most gaping hole in the constitution, the one that virtually guarantees a healthy insurgency for years to come, is the one around Article 108, where there should have been a clause stating that no foreign troops are allowed to maintain long-term or permanent bases on Iraqi soilÖ.Without it the violence will continue for the foreseeable future.
?Mark LeVine, assistant professor of history at the University of California (Irvine), alternet.com, 9/9/05
Question: Why does LeVine think violence is likely to continue in Iraq indefinitely?
The new constitution essentially states that no law can conflict with Shariah law. Sadly, this ancient nation appears to have traded one secular dictator for a whole set of worse oppressors and hundreds, if not thousands of Islamic mullahs, who may soon be empowered to overrule virtually any democratic freedom, thwart any democratic law, supplanting them with harsh Shariah law-laws that, frankly, throw human rights for women back into the Stone Age.
?Jerry McGlothlin, journalist, WorldNet Daily, 8/26/05
Question: Why does McGlothlin believe Iraqis are headed for worse oppression than that of the Saddam Hussein regime?
Opinions differ about the worth of the new Iraqi constitution. Using information from the documents, Reading 1, and your knowledge from other sources, write a well-organized essay that includes an introduction, several paragraphs, and a conclusion in which you:
- compare and contrast viewpoints about the Iraqi constitution
- discuss your own point of view and the reasons for it
H. For Discussion
Have students read the DBQ and answer in writing items A-F. Then divide them into groups of four to six 1) to discuss their answers and 2) to respond to the first item in F, which calls for comparing and contrasting viewpoints. The class might then consider the major points of comparison and contrast in reports from each group.
Follow this with a fishbowl response of personal viewpoints and the reasons for them.
Ask five to seven students to begin the conversation. Have them make a circle with their chairs in the middle of the room. Try to ensure that the group reflects diverse points of view on the issue. Ask everyone else to make a circle of chairs around the fish bowl. Only people in the fish bowl can speak; this enables sustained, focused listening by other members of the class.
You might begin by asking a student in the fish bowl to state and briefly explain his or her point of view about the continuing presence of US troops in Iraq. Each of the other students then speaks to that issue without interruption. After all have spoken, ask the fish bowl group for clarifying questions. After 15 minutes or so, invite students from the larger circle to participate in the fish bowl conversation, if they wish, by tapping a fish bowl student on the shoulder and moving into that student's seat.
This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org