The process of drafting Iraq's constitution has been chaotic, as evidenced in the confusing and contradictory final (so far) document. It is neither a template for an Islamist state nor a blueprint for a constitutional democracy. But depending on how the Iraqis handle it, it has elements that could be made to fit either.

The constitutional proposal was due August 15, but at the last minute the drafting commission requested a seven-day extension. When August 22 arrived, the Sunni participants still objected to the draft. A myriad of formal and informal negotiations followed between party and faction leaders, while commission and Parliament members complained they were sidelined. Differing drafts and fragments of drafts circulated around Baghdad and elsewhere while American pundits interpreted their meaning, often without knowing whether the draft they had was an accurate or even recent version.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad had many sleepless nights as he pushed negotiators to find some compromise. At one point, even President Bush weighed in by phone. Amendments were being drafted until August 28, when finally a draft was submitted to the Parliament and approved by the country's political leadership. This version is being submitted to the country for an October 15 referendum.

Convention amid Conflict

Before criticizing the Iraqi negotiators, it is important to realize how difficult their life has been. They had to draft a charter for a country with no robust institutions capable of forming a stable framework for the new regime. Several of Iraq's neighbors worked to make them fail, and bitter internal ethnic and religious divisions, as well as radically differing visions compete for the country's future. Among the ...

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