Sunday, September 28, 2003

It will take time

Iraq: Democracy on deadline

It took this country more than a decade to move from independence to constitutional government, but everybody wants Iraq to adopt democracy on a deadline.

It can't be done that way.

France has been pushing for Iraqi self-rule in 30 days. That is absurd. If the United States announced it would be leaving by the end of October, the Baathist thugs we ousted would be back in control of Baghdad before Thanksgiving.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday that he wants the Iraqi interim governing council to come up with a constitution within six months. Even that strikes us as an optimistic timetable.

The role of the United States is not to direct the rebuilding of Iraq, but to safeguard the process so the Iraqis can do it themselves. We want democracy to be built on a strong foundation in Iraq. That means painstaking debates among the members of the interim Iraqi Governing Council. Should the country be run by a presidential administration or a parliamentary system? How will the courts be set up and what rights of review will they have over laws that are enacted? Who will select the cabinet and what cabinet posts will there be? How many houses will be in the legislative branch and how will the representatives be apportioned? Who will get to vote? How often will elections be held?

It took the delegates at the United States Constitutional Convention four months to work out those questions in 1787, but nobody was driving car bombs through Philadelphia. It was more than two years later that the document was ratified by the last of the 13 states.

Creating a new nation with an orderly government and guaranteed liberties is a laborious, often dangerous, business. Just think of Akila al-Hashimi, a member of the 25-member Governing Council. She died Thursday morning, five days after gunmen ambushed her on the street as she drove to work. If Iraq one day becomes a functioning democracy, it will be because of the courage and tenacity of people such as Dr. Hashimi.

All the rest of the world can do to help is give them the time and the security to complete the task.

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