Iraq making constitutional progress but facing other legal challenges: White House

Iraq making constitutional progress but facing other legal challenges: White House

[JURIST] The Iraqi government has shown sufficient progress in its efforts to develop a constitutional review process, but is not making satisfactory progress in passing laws on the distribution of oil revenues and de-Baathification reform, according to the Initial Benchmark Assessment Report [text] sent to Congress Thursday by the White House. The report was issued pursuant to the US Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007, and President Bush said in a press conference [transcript; recorded audio] Thursday that:

Two months ago, in the supplemental appropriations bill funding our troops, Congress established 18 benchmarks to gauge the progress of the Iraqi government. They required we submit a full report to Congress by September the 15th. Today my administration has submitted to Congress an interim report that requires us to assess — and I quote the bill — "whether satisfactory progress toward meeting these benchmarks is or is not being achieved."

In addition to measuring the Iraqi government's progress in the areas of security, diplomatic engagement, and economics and essential services, the report also looked at Iraq's attempts at political reconciliation.

Regarding the government's progress on reforming the Iraqi constitution [JURIST report], the report noted:

The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward forming a Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) and then completing the constitutional review. The CRC has been formed, and, while difficult issues remain, significant progress has been made on many substantive issues and technical details involved in the constitutional review process. The CRC has requested an extension to resolve remaining issues, and its Chairman remains committed to moving the process forward

On de-Baathification reform [JURIST news archive] – the process of barring or allowing political participation and/or office holding by former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party – the Bush administration reported:

De-Ba'athification reform is among the most sensitive pieces of legislation being considered as it involves competing conceptions of justice, accountability, reconciliation, and economic compensation. Senior Iraqi political leaders remain at odds over some of the most fundamental aspects of de-Ba'athification reform, including over which categories of former Ba'ath party members would be proscribed by the law….

The Government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward enacting and implementing legislation on de-Ba'athification reform. This is among the most divisive political issues for Iraq, and compromise will be extremely difficult. Given the lack of satisfactory progress, we have not achieved the desired reconciliation effect that meaningful and broadly accepted de-Ba'athification reform might bring about.

In an assessment of the Iraqi government's efforts to pass legislation on oil revenue sharing [JURIST news archive], the report said:

The current status is unsatisfactory, but it is too early to tell whether the Government of Iraq will enact and implement legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources to all Iraqis. The Government of Iraq has not met its self-imposed goal of May 31 for submitting the framework hydrocarbon and revenue-sharing laws to the COR [Council of Representatives]. Although the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] and the Shi'a parties have agreed to the text of the Revenue Management Law, Council of Ministers' approval has been delayed by a Sunni party boycott. The effect of limited progress toward this benchmark has been to reduce the perceived confidence in, and effectiveness of, the Iraqi Government.

On establishing procedures for the formation of semi-autonomous regions [JURIST news archive], the report noted:

The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions. The regions law has been passed. Implementation of this legislation should take place after provincial elections are held and after the passage of an updated elections law. The procedures are in place, but whether establishment of additional regions (in addition to the already-recognized KRG) is desirable depends on a number of factors, including the outcome of efforts at constitutional reform. The progress toward this benchmark has been satisfactory, and the effect is that this potentially contentious issue has not been a source of discord.

Regarding efforts to enact and implement "legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission" and otherwise arrange for elections [JURIST news archive], the report said:

There are multiple components to this benchmark, each deserving its own assessment:

  • Establishing the IHEC Commission: The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward establishing an IHEC Commission. The Commission has been established.
  • Elections Law: The Government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward establishing a provincial elections law. Drafting of the law has just begun.
  • Provincial Council Authorities: The Government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward establishing provincial council authorities. The COR is working on legislation, which has had its second reading; however, the COR committee continues to work on revisions to the draft law, and it remains unclear when the legislation will come to a third and final vote by the full COR.
  • Provincial Elections Date: The Government of Iraq has not made satisfactory progress toward establishing a date for provincial elections. Legislation required for setting the date has not been enacted.

The effect is that there is still no mechanism in place to address the under-representation of Sunnis in provincial councils that was caused by past Sunni election boycotts.

The report also addressed the passage of amnesty legislation [JURIST news archive]:

There is little progress toward legislation establishing amnesty for those who fought against the government since 2003 or who committed crimes in the name of the Iraqi Government. Neither the GOI nor the COR are pressing forward the passage of amnesty legislation.

At some point, Iraq's process of reconciliation would benefit from an amnesty that recognizes the need to avoid criminal prosecution of certain acts of a military nature committed since 2003. However, a general amnesty program would be counterproductive in the current environment….

The prerequisites for a successful general amnesty are not present; however, in the current security environment, it is not clear that such action should be a near-term Iraqi goal. The Government of Iraq has established a high-level Government of Iraq Reconciliation Committee to support and oversee efforts of groups that want to oppose AQI [Al Qaeda Iraq] and other extremist elements ?? working with a joint U.S. Embassy/MNF-I group that is facilitating such actions in coordination with units on the ground. These efforts are more relevant at this point than are general amnesty initiatives. Nonetheless, the Government of Iraq should develop amnesty programs later in the year, so they are ready to be implemented if opportunities arise. Given the absence of the necessary conditions for amnesty, the absence of amnesty legislation has had no effect. The current plan and strategy calls for the passage of such legislation when the necessary conditions are present.

On Iraqi government efforts to ensure "that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected," the report said:

The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected. Minority political parties in the COR participate in COR activities in a manner consistent with minority parties in other parliamentary democracies. Women COR members work closely with each other, often across party lines. We anticipate a continued role for minorities and women in the parliament.

Of the 18 total benchmarks identified by Congress, the administration reported satisfactory progress in eight areas, called for more progress in eight other areas, and said progress was mixed in the two remaining areas.

In remarks on the report Thursday, President Bush said:

I'll continue to urge the Iraqis to show us that they're capable of passing legislation. But it's not just us, it's the Iraqi people. And what really matters is whether or not life is improving for the Iraqi people on the ground.

And, yes, I've got confidence in them, but I also understand how difficult it is. I'm not making excuses, but it is hard. It's hard work for them to get law passed. And sometimes it's hard work for people to get law passed here. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't continue to work to achieve an objective, which is a government that is able to provide security for its people and provide basic services, and, as importantly, serve as an ally against these extremists and radicals.

AP has more.