Building a rights-based, federal democracy

The Iraqi Ambassador to Canada Howar Ziad says Iraq is in a struggle between truth and falsehood, between decency and depravity, between democracy and dictatorship and between freedom and slavery.
Before its liberation in April, 2003, Iraq was not a peaceful democracy, nor was it a country of social justice, or of ethnic, religious and linguistic tolerance as this great country Canada is. No, Iraq was a country occupied by a foreign ideology, the fascist idea of Baathism; a country in which the regime was at war with the people; a regime that was at war with its neighbours and the world; a regime that had isolated Iraq and brought international sanctions on itself; a regime guilty of aggression, genocide and terrorism; a regime in flagrant non-compliance with its international obligations.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the road to a rights-based democracy in Iraq can sometimes seem daunting. But the progress that has been made so far is remarkable. Governments have changed peacefully. Hundreds of political parties have been formed. Governments have been created on the basis of democratic elections — and governments that can legitimately claim to represent the vast majority of Iraqis, no less. Negotiation, compromise and deliberation, not coups and conspiracies, are the character of contemporary Iraqi politics. Iraq has had an interim and now a final constitution, both documents agreed to by a process of negotiation and then, in the case of the final constitution, adopted through a democratic referendum.
The constitution seeks to establish a rights-based democratic federation, based on the twin federal principles of shared rule and self-rule. It aims at a federal government that is inclusive of the country’s diversity. It allows for decentralization so that local communities can make their own decisions in some matters that are important to them. It entrenches the principle of bilingualism — showing respect for both of Iraq’s major language communities. And all of this takes place within a context in which fundamental human rights are protected throughout the state. Such a model of government should be familiar to you because these are the very same principles on which this great federation — Canada — is based.
Sadly, a small minority of Iraqis have rejected the politics of negotiation, consensus and compromise and have, without provocation or just cause, turned to violence. They are aided, abetted and encouraged by foreign elements, religious fanatics and fundamentalists. The Baathist fascists, who long supported and encouraged the religious jihadist fascists of al-Qaeda, are now having the favour returned. There is no clearer evidence that the violence in Iraq is not so-called “resistance” to foreign occupation but pure blatant fascism than the recent attack on the holy shrine in Samarra. This act of sacrilege is a sign of the utter lack of respect that the Ba’athist-Jihadist alliance has for Islam and in particular for the Shi’ah faith that is so dear to the majority of Iraqis.
There have been similar acts of sacrilege before. In 2002, Ansar al-Islam, an al-Qaeda affiliate group, destroyed Sufi tombs in the remote Kurdish village of Biyara, and in 2003 and 2004, the Ba’athist-Jihadist alliance launched murderous attacks near the mosques in Najaf and Kerbala.
This violent minority threatens all of us. They will not be content with victory in Iraq alone (not that we will concede that to them); they will always seek to impose and export their sickness elsewhere.
Iraq is in a struggle between truth and falsehood, between decency and depravity, between democracy and dictatorship and between freedom and slavery. Building a rights-based, federal democracy like the one in which we stand is difficult in such a context, but we are persevering and we are determined to succeed. We have waited too long for this chance. We will not allow the violence and hatred of a small minority to deprive us of this historic opportunity.
Howar Ziad is the Ambassador of Iraq to Canada. This is an edited excerpt from a speech he gave in Ottawa to the Canadian Peacebuilding Co-ordinating Committee on March 2.