Ginsburg on Libya's New Constitution: Lessons from Iraq's Missteps

Libya's New Constitution: Lessons from Iraq's Missteps
Tom Ginsburg
Chicago Tribune
October 21, 2011

Now that Moammar Gadhafi has fallen, Libya's victorious revolutionaries should heed Iraq's missteps as they begin the critical task of political reconstruction, including Iraq's hurried 2005 constitution-making process.

There are as many ways to write a constitution as there are spellings of Gadhafi's name, and some processes can exacerbate conflict rather than resolve it. Iraq's constitution was a complex bargain, drawn up in very different circumstances. But it offers lessons for Libya. Most important, the Libyan rebels should avoid the temptation to move too quickly.

The Iraqi Constitution was adopted on a very short timetable imposed by the occupation authorities. By insisting on producing a constitution before the various political forces had reached an underlying agreement, the occupation authorities ensured that much of the Sunni population was left out of the process. The constitution arguably inflamed the civil war.

In addition, the strict timetable Iraq imposed for completion of the constitutional draft caused many decisions to be postponed for a future legislature. But the gridlock in Iraq's parliamentary system has meant that few of these decisions were ever taken. The distribution of Iraq's oil revenues is to be handled by a law that has only this month been proposed in parliament, six years after the adoption of the constitution. An upper house called the Federation Council, to represent regions, has never been formed. A set of amendments proposed by a constitutional review commission has not yet been submitted to a vote. Many other crucial decisions have gone unresolved.

Tom Ginsburg