Kanan Makiya, a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (IMES) at Brandeis is currently sitting on the 25-member committee that will help in drafting the new Iraqi constitution.
Makiya is currently on a leave of absence from his duties as a professor because of his obligations in Iraq, yet he made time to return to Brandeis last Wed. to discuss the tenuous situation in Iraq.
The talk, entitled "Iraq Today: The View from Baghdad," was meant to give Brandeis students, faculty and those not affiliated with Brandeis the opportunity to hear about Iraq first hand. By Makiya's estimation, it is a country that we are closely tied to at this time, yet the American public knows relatively little about its realities.
"I do not recognize the Iraq which is being ravaged, which is being touted in the media," Makiya said.
What Makiya grieves that Americans do not hear so much about are the idealists and activists that are aiding Iraq's reconstruction.
"Another kind of idealist (are those) that have left the shores of the U.S. and (have) gone to Iraq, giving up their comforts to help Iraq," Makiya said.
Additionally, Makiya stated that, "the borders (of Iraq) are open to mischief." This sense of disorder is blamed partially on the fact that, according to Makiya, the governing council is not seen as legitimate by Iraqis. Makiya believes that Iraqis need to be given the opportunity to take a more active and noticeable role in governing.
"You need Iraqis, not from the outgoing regime, but from the former opposition," Makiya said, grieving the fact that President Bush did not use a great enough number of Iraqis who could have been used in investigative intelligence. Additionally, he fears that there is a reservation about empowering Iraqis themselves.
"There is a lingering prejudice against empowering (Iraqis) and political exiles in general," he said.
However, Makiya saw the potential "to make of this venture a success story," declaring emphatically that "the Iraqi Regime and the Ba'ath Party are a thing of the past."
He sees this as a step in the right direction, leaving behind the days of the Iraqi Regime that spent large sums of money on the military which dwarfed spending on other crucial programs. According to Makiya, the Iraqi Regime spent $1.9 billion on the military, $3.5 million on the entire educational system, and $6.5 million on the entire health sector for 25 million people.
"The Iraqi body politic is in its infancy," he said, pointing to the fact that Iraq has been deprived of political freedom for about thirty years. They are in the process of forming a new sense of identity, he stated, one, he hoped that would be defined by an Iraqi identity, rather than an ethnic identity. He hoped that Iraq would no longer be defined as an Arab nation, but simply as Iraq.
"A constitution, at the end of the day," he said, "tells us who an Iraqi is, in a political sense."
Makiya further stated that there was "not a trace of Islamic reasoning in what (the Ayatollah) said to us or in his wording. Accordingly, the constitution will be written by experts and ratified by a referendum, he added.
The constitutional committee, of which Makiya is a part of, traveled throughout Iraq in order to have discussions with assemblies of people so that they could hear the concerns of the Iraqi people in regards to the constitution. It was also a way for the Iraqis to meet the constitutional committee. Each meeting was very impressive, Makiya said, adding that no meeting had any less than 400 people, some of which attracted around 2,500 people.
After the constitution is completed, said Makiya, there will be a legitimate Iraqi authority, especially since "provisional constitutions was all they (the Iraqis) knew (during past regimes)."
Although Makiya said, "The United States is going to have to leave (Iraq) very soon, there is no doubt about it," he adamantly stated that he believed that America's engagement in war with Iraq was justified, whether or not Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
"I never justified this war based on possession of weapons of mass destruction, it was just another thing to tack onto the list," he said. "It was in the nature of what the regime had done to its people. It was a uniquely terrible, uniquely evil state that did awful things to its own population, including the use of poison gas."
Makiya stated that he would like to continue working on the constitution, in terms of writing it as well. However, he noted that that is not up to him. Yet, if he does work on it, he would like to see the use of federalism and decentralization, the championship of individuals rights, support created for a human rights commission, demilitarization and the cessation of Iraq being defined along ethnic lines. He added that he outlined his hopes for the democratization of Iraq in his "Transition to Iraqi Democracy."