Skip to main content

Iraq's Constitutional Crisis

Iraq has come far since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, but the country is still plagued by crises that are social as well as political in nature, writes Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
Iraqi Sunni Muslims take part in an anti-government demonstration at the Abu Hanifa Sunni mosque in Baghdad's Adhamiya district, January 25, 2013.  At least three people were killed on Friday when Iraqi troops opened fire during clashes in Falluja city with Sunni protesters rallying against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, officials and witnesses said. Banner on right reads, "No to Dictatorship".   REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani (IRAQ - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION CIVIL UNREST) - RTR3CXO9

It's easy to say that Iraq needs a comprehensive review of what would be required for its groups to coexist. It's easy to talk about a general conference bringing together all groups — both those inside and outside Iraq’s political process — to agree on a settlement that ends the confusion and contradiction over the country's future.

But it's more difficult to imagine a clear road map that would actually push Iraqi groups to accept their historical responsibilities.

In 2003, Iraq faced an earthshaking confrontation, as the dictatorship and authoritarian rule under which Iraqis had suffered for more than three decades came to an end — and not at the hands of the Iraqis themselves. The downfall came at the hands of the US military, which left Iraqis — particularly the broader sections of society affected by former President Saddam Hussein’s regime — between a rock and a hard place. These sections of society were grateful to the US troops for their sacrifices in bringing down Saddam Hussein's regime, but at the same time, they couldn't confront the logic of the Sunni and Shiite militias in “resisting the American occupation.”

It's impossible not to consider this, or to ignore this plight as if it never happened — and it's unacceptable to pretend that the issue ended with the withdrawal of the last American soldier from Iraq at the end of 2011.

Attention needs to be drawn to the fact that Iraqis — both as a single people and in their different social groups of religions, sects, nationalities and ideologies — were the victims of a deception that lasted from 2003 to 2012. They haven't had an opportunity to reach an internal social contract that is complete and indisputable, and that would attempt to catch up with the growing globalization movement. This is despite the fact that Iraq's current constitution — of which certain articles are debatable — might be considered the basis of a contract that can be expanded into further agreements.

The constitution should not be a red line for such a contract. Everybody knows that the constitution was passed at the end of 2005 over the objections of the Sunnis — a key group. Passing a broader agreement would require reviewing and examining the provisions of the constitution itself.

The constitution stipulates broad amendments to fix the lack of social consensus, and these were supposed to be added at the end of 2006. Parliament has failed to respect the explicit time frame set by the constitution, and the gap has widened between this text and the general public. The constitution is, in essence, a draft consensual social contract, and other nations have produced constitutions that were not passed by a simple majority vote, but rather through the most general popular consensus possible.

The crises which Iraq has experienced since the last American soldier withdrew early last year don't relate to the presence (or lack thereof) of Americans on Iraqi soil. They're also not related to that longstanding Middle Eastern vision of a Western conspiracy against this region and against Iraq.

Instead, the core problem is that Iraqis, as represented by current political circles, haven't agree on a new contract for the Iraqi citizen to build the foundations, concepts and limits of governance.

Both 2003 and 2012 were years of crisis, with religious and sectarian disputes that seem impossible to resolve. But recognizing these disputes and overcoming their resulting division is the very essence of coexistence.

This task requires Iraqi clerics and intellectuals. Any road map out of the current crisis requires consulting these two social representatives.

The fundamental principle required in Iraq — in the absence of a unifying figure such as President Jalal Talabani — is to find a religious and cultural movement that will serve as a cover for any political movement that brings together political and social factions, who are subject to, not above, the constitution and rules of the political game.

The constitution and laws can't be in isolation from any proposed Iraqi settlement. In light of the Sunni protests and escalating separatist tones of the three groups — Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds — the key question isn't how to form or to dismiss a particular government. That is ultimately a perfunctory issue. It can happen once the Iraqis find a consensual political basis for forming and dismissing governments, managing conflicts and agreeing on laws — without threatening to split the country.

Mustafa al-Kadhimi is an Iraqi writer specializing in defense of democracy. He has extensive experience in documenting testimony and archiving documentaries associated with repressive practices.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

Text Alerts - Be the first to get breaking news, exclusives, and PRO content.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial