Maliki, Bush Trample Iraq's Democracy

The United States, it is said, invaded Iraq to create democracy. The truth of that proposition aside, the unseemly, hurried-up renewal of the United Nations mandate that supports the U.S. occupation of Iraq this week trampled on the very idea of democracy.

Last summer, Iraq's parliament - yes, the very parliament that was elected by millions of Iraqis with painted thumbs in 2005 - voted to endorse the notion that the renewal of the UN Security Council mandate for the American occupation for 2008 be submitted to a vote in parliament. In that vote, 144 members of the 275-member body voted to make clear that the parliament gets a say. The Iraqi constitution, flawed as it is, requires (Article 73, Section 2) that any international treaties and agreements be subject to a two-thirds approval by the parliament.

Pressured by the United States, however, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki flagrantly ignored both the parliamentary vote and the constitutional requirement. He submitted the request to the UNSC on his own authority, and got it. Some democracy.

Incidentally, the parliament might have approved the renewal, or it might not have. But at the very least, nationalists in parliament - who comprise a majority - would have imposed conditions on the renewal, probably including a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Polls consistently show that upwards of three-quarters of Iraqis want the U.S. to leave Iraq. Not counting the Kurds, who generally favor an American presence, among Iraqi Arabs - Sunni and Shia - there is nearly universal support for a U.S. withdrawal.

On December 19, Representative Bill Delahunt (D.-Mass.) - in conjunction with a guest member of his subcommittee, Representative Jim McDermott (D.-Wash.) -- held a hearing into the matter. At the hearing, an expert from the Law Library of Congress testified that Maliki had rolled the parliament. Issam Michael Saliba, the senior foreign law specialist for the Middle East and North Africa at the library, said that it was clear that the Iraqi parliament has the right to approve the UN mandate:

It is a general principle of constitutional law that international treaties and agreements require legislative approval for their validity. Article 73 Section 2 of the Iraqi constitution subscribes to this principle by providing that the president of the republic may ratify international treaties and agreements only after the approval of parliament. ...

Under this definition, the request made by the Iraqi government to extend the mandate of the multinational troops in Iraq and the assent of the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution extending such a mandate constitute in my opinion an international agreement subject to the constitutional approval of parliament.

Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi and a representative of the American Friends Service Committee, noted that Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said several times, including two weeks ago, that the UN mandate renewal would not occur without parliamentary approval. "This will be the last request for troops extension. It will not be represented to the United Nations Security Council prior to its submission to the Iraqi parliament for deliberation," said Zebari.

The key question, said Jarrar, is: "Is the Iraqi parliament being ignored, and what are the consequences of this policy of ignoring the legislative branch?" By riding roughshod over parliament, President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki are teaching Iraqis that they have no respect at all for democracy and the rule of law.

The next battle will be the U.S.-Iraq treaty that will govern the long-term presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, including possible permanent bases. The United States and Iraq are supposed to conclude that accord by July, 2008. That accord will be subject to parliamentary approval, says Maliki--but who knows? He might try to impose that one, too.

In any case, the just-renewed UN mandate will expire in December, 2008. At the point, without a U.S.-Iraq agreement, the occupation will be illegal. If Maliki does submit it to parliament, what are the chances that body will approve it by December? Slim to none. And what happens if they don't? Stay tuned.