That Means Nothing
To Ordinary Iraqis
By Robert Fisk
15 August, 2005
Behind ramparts of concrete and barbed
wire, the framers of Iraqs new constitution wrestled yesterday
to prevent - or bring about - the federalisation of Iraq while their
compatriots in the hot and fetid streets outside showed no interest
in their efforts.
Today is supposed
to be "C" day, according to President Bush and all the others
who illegally invaded this country in 2003. However, in " real"
Baghdad - where the President and Prime Minister and the constitutional
committee never set foot - they ask you about security, about electricity,
about water, about when the occupation will end, when the murders will
end, when the rapes will end.
They talk, quite
easily, about the "failed" Jaafari government, so blithely
elected by Shias and Kurds last January. "Failed" because
it cannot protect its own people. "Failed" because it cannot
rebuild its own capital city - visible to it between the Crusader-like
machine-gun slits in the compound walls - and because it cannot understand,
let alone meet, the demands of the "street".
In the Alice-in-Wonderland
Iraq of Messrs Bush and Blair - inhabited, too, by the elected government
of Iraq and its constitutional drafters and quite a few Western journalists
- there are no such problems to cope with. The air-conditioners hiss
away - there are generators to provide 24-hour power - and almost all
senior officials have palatial homes in the heavily protected "Green
Zone" which was once Saddam Husseins Republican Palace compound.
No power cuts for them, no petrol queues, no kidnaps and murders.
As an Iraqi academic
just returned from Paris and Brussels told me yesterday: "Europeans
understand politics through the Green Zone level. They have no idea
that the rest of Iraq - save for Kurdistan - is a place of anarchy and
death. One asked me: Do you think federalism is really a danger
to the Sunni? I answered him: Do you think the fear of constant
death is not a danger to Sunnis, Shia and Kurds? His eyes glazed
over. It was not what he wanted to talk about. But it is what we talk
Those few Iraqis
who bother to read the government press in Baghdad - their low circulation
mirrors the same phenomenon of disbelief that existed under Saddams
regime - are told every nuance of the constitutional debate. The name
of the state has been agreed (The Iraqi Republic), the distribution
of financial resources according to demographic areas rather than provinces
(bad news for the Kurds), and that Islam should be "one" of
the sources of legislation (bad news for those who want an Islamic republic).
There is a "constitutional
committee" and a "constitutional commission" (comprising
55 elected parliamentary deputies) with 15 unelected Sunnis (because
the Sunni population largely boycotted last Januarys election),
each committee divided into five sub-committees, each one studying one
chapter in the constitution. The actual writers of this massive document
- they allegedly include at least two professors - remain anonymous
for "security reasons". And all live in the heavily guarded
Green Zone, safe - more or less - from the insurgents and, more importantly,
safer from ordinary Iraqis who have to endure the violence of the American
occupation, the oppression of the insurgents and the daily threat of
mass, organised crime.
Everyone knows the
real issue behind the constitution: will it allow Iraqs three
principle communities - the Shias, the Sunnis and the Kurds - to form
their own federal states? And if so, will this mean the break up of
Iraq? The Sunnis, the only one of the three whose homes do not sit on
oil reserves, are naturally against such a division which would, incidentally,
allow the Americans and the other Western nations, who still claim to
have liberated Iraq for "democracy", to reach oil deals with
two weakened entities rather than a potentially united Iraqi nation.
Add to all this
Kurdistans demand that the future demography of Kirkuk - the Arab
population injected by Saddam, the Kurdish population of the city exiled
by Saddam and its minority Turkomans - be settled before the constitution
is written, and you get a good idea why even the Americans are beginning
to lose patience. The Kurds want oil-rich Kirkuk to be the capital of
Kurdistan - a state which already exists although no Iraqi seems to
be prepared to admit this - and thus further cut away at the frontier
between " Arab" Iraq and "Kurdish" Iraq.
The problem is that
all these issues are played out not in Iraq but in the Alice-in-Wonderland
world already described. This is a unique place in which Saddams
trial is always being predicted to start in two months time -
on at least four occasions this has happened - in which Iraqi reconstruction
is always about to restart and in which insurgent strength is always
weakening. In fact, Iraqi guerrillas are now striking at the Americans
70 times a day and so fearful are senior American officers of an increase
in attacks that this has become their principle reason for trying to
prevent the release of 87 further photographs and videotapes of the
Abu Ghraib prison torture and abuses.
In Real Iraq, it
makes no difference. For the "street", Saddam is history,
there is no reconstruction and the filth of Abu Ghraib causes no great
surprise - because most Iraqis knew all about it months before the West
opened its horrified eyes to the pictures.
As for the constitution,
I asked an old Iraqi friend what he thought yesterday. "Sure, its
important," he said. "But my family lives in fear of kidnapping,
Im too afraid to tell my father I work for journalists, and we
only have one hour in six of electricity and we cant even keep
our food from going bad in the fridge. Federalism? You cant eat
federalism and you cant use it to fuel your car and it doesnt
make my fridge work."