Interested In Electricity
By Robert Fisk
11 March, 2004
Baghdad: They used
King Feisel's old table to sign the document, the desk upon which Winston
Churchill's choice as monarch once tried - not very successfully, it
has to be said - to rule Iraq.
It was supposed
to be a special day in Iraqi history. Twenty-five local leaders - most
television reports spared viewers the uncomfortable "American-appointed"
qualification - dutifully signed their new and temporary constitution.
Veiled ladies and tribal sheikhs, some good men and true but also a
convicted fraudster, Ahmed Chalabi, scribbled their signatures in front
of the US proconsul Paul Bremer on Monday.
You could almost
hear him sighing in relief. For the constitution - it is only temporary
and contains plenty of unanswered questions - is supposed to be America's
get-out clause. As long as the 25 men and women signed their names,
Washington could hand over "sovereignty" to them on June 30,
well before US presidential elections in November. That, at least, is
On Monday we were
spared the string quartet and the children's choir of last week's aborted
ceremony - but not the violence.
For many Baghdads,
the day began as it did for me, instinctively ducking as a tremendous
explosion clappered over the city. I was trying to make a phone call
when the first rocket exploded on the police station near Andalos Square.
I heard the firing of the weapon, a dull thump, and then the swish of
the missile overhead.
By the time I reached
the cops' headquarters, the road was packed with angry young men and
screaming ambulances. There was another thump and another powerful impact
as a second rocket hit a civilian home in a cloud of grey smoke.
At the Ibn el-Nafis
Hospital, the little boy wounded in the house was writhing in agony,
next to Sergeant Abbas Jalil Hussein of the Iraqi police force.
"I was just
washing my hands in order to say my morning prayers," he said.
"I heard this tremendous noise, and then I felt the blood on my
leg and realised I was wounded." At this point, a member of the
hospital's management - under the standing instructions of the American-appointed
health minister - interrupted to say I had no business to be in the
ward. This wasn't the day to be reporting on suffering Iraqis, certainly
not a day for dangerous folk like journalists to be counting the statistics
So I set off to
the home of an Iraqi businessman, a Christian, to watch America's dreams
come true, praying he would have electricity to power his television
set. His generator thumped out just enough juice to run it. The screen
dipped and waved and shimmered, but there they were, one by one, stepping
up to King Feisel's chair, applauded and beaming, unelected men and
women of the Governing Council signing a temporary constitution which,
in theory at least, guarantees freedom of speech and assembly: a flurry
of brown robes, sparkling pens, blue suits and veils.
Most Iraqis are
more interested in electricity than constitutions which may be one reason
why the details of this particular document have not exactly been discussed
in the street.
They should have
We still don't know,
for example, whether the Kurds will have a veto on any new government
decisions. The original document stipulated that two thirds of voters
in any three provinces could have a veto. The Kurds control three provinces
in the north, two of which, according to the dominant Shia population,
contain only a majority of 500 000 people. This was one of the reasons
why old Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani objected to the signing. Will the Shia
community's 60% of the entire Iraqi population really be represented
by a new government? Will they get three members of their particular
faith into a five-man rotating presidency or one in a three-man presidency,
which Monday's signing seemed to represent?
Iraqis have been
puzzled by the clause allowing Iraqis two passports and the right of
restitution of property if they have been exiled. Did this refer to
opponents of Saddam or the tens of thousands of Jewish Iraqis driven
from Baghdad more than four decades ago? Were Israelis born in Baghdad
to be given Iraqi passports and return? Why shouldn't they, I asked
my Christian friend? Fair enough, he said. But would the Americans then
support the return of Palestinians driven from their homes in what is
now Israel in 1948?
In the end, the
signing ceremony was pomp without much circumstance. Bremer - the man
who was supposed to be an expert in "counter-terrorism" when
he was appointed by President Bush and is reported as saying that he
will retire on June 30 - sent a letter of congratulations to the 25
men and women.
Then came the usual
off-the-record briefings from his spokespersons. We could expect more
violence now the document had been signed. There would be an increase
in attacks up to June 30. It was the same old story: the better things
are, the worse they get.
Copyright: The Independent