Deciding on the foundations of a country and then writing them down is a challenge in the best of times. The United States declared its independence in 1776, but only produced a new constitution eleven years later. The two largest provinces of 19th century Canada quelled civil unrest in 1837, were told by the imperial power to merge three years later, and finally adopted a federal form of self-government together with the Maritime provinces in 1867. France has gone from republic to monarchy to repub- lic again numerous times since 1789. Iraq emerged as a country from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. Its boundaries were the product of decisions by colonial masters. Saddam Hussein, who seized power in a military coup in 1979, used the arbitrary nature of these frontiers as his excuse for ”œliberating” the inde- pendent oil sheikhdom of Kuwait in 1990, prompting the first Gulf War. Ironically, one of the outcomes of the war was international protection of the Kurdish provinces in the north of the country, which has meant the relative degree of autonomy of that region since 1991.

The decision by the US/UK-led coalition to invade Iraq in the spring of 2003 had several consequences. One was the ouster and eventual capture of Saddam Hussein. Another was the unleashing of forces that the brutality of the dictatorship had kept under firm control for genera- tions: a religious Shiite movement, largely in the south, which seeks to see more traditional values enshrined and protected in the constitution; and a movement of people who had been unable to express themselves for decades and who want a liberal, secular democracy, with groups advocating women’s rights, greater academic freedom, environmental protection, the protection of minorities, and the modernization of the Iraqi economy. The Kurds were strong supporters of the invasion because it meant that their oppressor would finally be brought to book, and it could ultimately provide a protected constitutional sta- tus within a federal Iraq. The decision to disband the Iraqi army and police and prohibit members of the Ba’athist regime from participating in civic life had far greater effect than was realized at the time, with two major conse- quences: first, a vacuum in the main- tenance of civil order, which left for- eign armies to assume basic police responsibilities; and second, a large and idle army of the downwardly mobile and disaffected. A huge por- tion of the public sector lost their jobs, their vocation, and their pen- sions. They were, for the most part, Sunni, and now form an important base for the domestic insurgency that has engulfed Iraq since President Bush’s declaration of an end to major combat opera- tions two years ago.

To this maelstrom add the terrorism of the bin Laden sur- rogates, led in Iraq by Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who has used the vacuum of civil order in Iraq as a breeding and recruiting ground; neighbour- ing countries, each with a dif- ferent stake in Iraq’s continuing failure and weak- ness; and a tribalism whose full force had been pushed down by Saddam’s army and bureaucracy, but which now has very little to hold it back.

What is remarkable is that given these condi- tions and the consequent level of violence, some constitu- tional progress has been made. Thousands of civilians have been killed since 2003, some by invading forces and some by what is broadly called ”œthe insurgency.” Electricity and water are, on average, avail- able for nine or ten hours a day, less than in the bad old days of Saddam. Reconstruction efforts are consistently undermined by bomb attacks and sabotage: the forces of terror will do everything they can to make things worse than they could be, because their mission is to intim- idate, to create fear and confusion, and to demoralize. Much hard bar- gaining on basic governance and constitutional issues has been under- way since 2003; indeed, since before the invasion. Both the Kurdish and Shi’ite leadership had, with varying degrees of reluctance, participated in the drafting of the so called TAL con- stitution, which made possible the election of 2005. The significant delays in the formulation of the new government after that election owed a great deal to bargaining and discus- sion, particularly between the Kurds and the Shi’ites, over the constitu- tion. The boycott of the election by many Sunni leaders meant they were absent from those early discussions, to say nothing of the drafting of the TAL. This meant that the 55-member constitution committee, chaired by Sheikh Hammoudi, eventually had to be supplemented by 14 Sunni repre- sentatives, who were not actually members of the National Assembly.

The federal issue has been diffi- cult from the outset. The presence of the federal idea at the heart of the debate initially owed everything to the Kurds, who would agree to buy into the process only if power could be shared and distributed in a dramat- ically different pattern from the past. Having tasted the fruits of their own customs duties, and having protected themselves for nearly 15 years with their own army, the Kurds are now insisting on a substantial devolution of power, as well as a redrawing of boundaries to include areas they consider historically Kurdish.

Over 90 percent of gov- ernmental revenue comes from oil. It is not hard to see why it has become such a bone of contention. While it is true that some older fed- erations " the US, Canada, Australia " have left owner- ship and control of resources exclusively in the hands of the states or provinces, no countries that are so econom- ically oil dependent have done so. Given the centrality of oil to Iraq’s finances, it would be difficult to justify leaving the centre with no claim. A compromise has been found " ownership belonging to all the people and a management " and revenue-sharing regime that ensures equity, as well as an adequate financial base, for both the regions and the cen- tre. This will remain a critical question in the time ahead.

What about regions other than Kurdistan? Iraq is currently divided into 18 governates, 3 of which make up the Kurdistan region. The new constitutional arrangement, approved in the referendum of October 15, gives substantial protec- tion to the autonomy and self-gover- nance of Kurdistan. It also provides opportunities for other regions to be formed. Given the secessionist tenden- cies among younger Kurds in particu- lar, the fears that Iran " and even Syria and Jordan " could use regional autonomy to increase their influence in bordering areas, as well as the strong centralist traditions among both Ba’athist and religious forces, it is hardly surprising that one hears the usual ”œhorror of federalism” being paraded about. Federalism, it is said, is essentially a foreign idea, a Western idea. It has no place in an Islamic state. ”œFederalism will lead to sepa- ratism” is the next argument. It is an imported ideology that will put Iraq in a rigid straightjacket from which it will never emerge. The world, the oil companies, the West, will pick at Iraq’s remains. These  arguments must be answered. The demand for federalism has come from Iraqis themselves.

Every federal country is different. There is certainly no single path to federalism. It is an approach, not an ideology. The evidence would also show that, far from leading to separatism, an effective federalism counteracts those determined to break up a coun- try. By insisting on one language, one religion, one official identity, it could reasonably be argued that a dominant majority gives a smaller nationality no reason to stay. It is the abuse of major- ity power that fuels the secessionist urge, not the dispersal and sharing of power, which is at the core of the fed- eralist idea. The key is ”œeffective feder- alism,” which is very different from confederation. The central govern- ment must have the sovereign capaci- ty to relate to each citizen, to maintain the defence and foreign affairs of the country, and to ensure an economy where goods, services, com- merce, and people are mobile.

If Iraq’s regions are feudal fiefdoms, separatism will indeed be built into the constituent parts but not because of federalism. After all, the idea of building a stronger and more perfect union is as important a part of the fed- eral project as is the recognition of the particular nature of different regions. Just as the myth of the ethnically homogeneous state denies the reality of diversity, the borders and powers of the regions themselves should not be based on notions of ethnic exclusivity. Assyrians, Turkmen, Aziris and others have expressed strong anxiety that their interests would be lost in some simplistic ethnic carve-up. Given the absence of any strong pattern of pro- tecting the rights of minorities, their concerns are understandable. Modern federal practices have made a consis- tent point of not allowing provincial or states rights to squelch human rights.

Canada did not join the United States and the United Kingdom in the invasion of Iraq " nor did a great many other countries. Yet Iraq’s plight is one that should concern us. Those who have gone to Iraq are not writing the Iraqi Con- stitution " it is very much a homegrown proposition. But the establishment of a stable, secure state is in the broad interest of all coun- tries, including Canada. The difficult truth is that to be effective, our presence has to be consistent, thoughtful, and sustained. Peace, order and good gov- ernment were important objectives for our national policy in the 19th century, and they are a good basis for our inter- national role in the 21st. The world cannot afford any no go zones, where the rule of law does not prevail. Deep instability anywhere can pose a threat to Canada’s security. There are no ”œcountries far away of which we know little,” to borrow Neville Chamber- lain’s unfortunate 1938 phrase. That is not to endorse an over-reaching adventurism, but to accept that a sus- tained commitment to civil gover- nance needs to be taken seriously.