Have a Nice Country

Noah Feldman helped write the Iraqi constitution. Now he gets to watch it sink or swim.

It is not altogether clear how much Feldman finally contributed to the TAL. He stressed that work on the draft constitution involved a number of individuals, many of them Iraqi, including Faisal Istrabadi, an adviser to onetime Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi; Adel Abdul Mahdi, now Iraq'sfinance minister; and Salem Chalabi, a nephew of Ahmad Chalabi and now in charge of Saddam Hussein's trial.

At the same time, Feldman expresses particular satisfaction with the work, pointing for example to an article that delineates the relationship between Islam, conceived as "a" source of legislation and the official religion of the state, and democracy.

"I was trying to influence the issue I cared most about. This document would have to fully acknowledge the role of Islam and its compatibility with democracy," he said. "This was a new idea to the CPA people. Most had the idea that any democracy had to be secular. I'm proud of that provision. It's totally original language. I hope that will be the lasting legacy of that document."

Noah Feldman: "It was just my opportunity to do something."
photo: Yorke E. Flynn
Noah Feldman: "It was just my opportunity to do something."

Feldman said he went to Baghdad to serve not just Americans, but Iraqis as well. If in doing so he became a symbol of American paternalism, it may not have been entirely his fault. By the time the TAL was signed in March, the occupation was criticized by a large majority of Iraqis, its motives seen as mostly predatory. The members of the Governing Council, who signed the interim constitution, were regarded as American puppets. Iraqis, unsurprisingly, wanted their country back—and without laws that prejudiced their future.

"The real issue is, if Iraqis were given a free choice, what kind of commitments would they make?" asks Abou El Fadl. "I have a lot of friends from Saddam's time who hated his guts. It would have been a wonderful experience to work with them to shape something that is authentically Iraqi and an example to others."

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