Research: Power-Sharing in Iraq

David L. Phillips
Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, Center for Preventive Action

Council on Foreign Relations, April 25, 2005

View report

While Iraq's elections were a watershed in the country's history, the real fight for power will be over Iraq's permanent constitution. This fight is just getting under way.

Power-Sharing in Iraq, written by David L. Phillips, a senior fellow and deputy director of the Council's Center for Preventive Action, recommends a "federal system of governance that preserves Iraq as a unitary state, advances the aspirations of ethnic and sectarian groups, and is administratively viable. Federal Iraq states should control all affairs not explicitly assigned to the national government." The report examines hot-button issues such as ownership of Iraq's energy wealth, disarming militias, the status of Kirkuk, individual and group rights, and the role of Islam in Iraqi governance. It also outlines roles for the United States and the United Nations.

Iraqis should make every effort to meet the August 15 deadline for finalizing the constitution. To this end, Iraq's political leaders should move quickly to compose a constitutional commission that includes all Iraqi ethnic and sectarian groups, especially Arab Sunnis who have so far been left out of the political process. Iraqis must have the opportunity to debate and assume ownership of Iraq's permanent constitution. If the draft is not ready by June 30, the assembly should, in compliance with article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law, consider a delay of up to 6 months.

The best way to balance the competing demands of democracy and unity is through a republican, federal, democratic, and pluralistic structure that separates powers and provides check and balances. "Democracy involves much more than voting. It is about the distribution of political power through institutions and laws that guarantee accountable rule," the report concludes. The national government would be assigned specific authorities such as national defense, fiscal policy, and foreign affairs with other powers decentralized to regional and local governments.

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