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Birthing Democracy a Painful Process

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 24, 2005 – The Iraqi elections Jan. 30 "will not be perfect, will not be pretty," officials have said, and in that they will have a lot in common with the beginning of democracy in the United States.

Any new democracy suffers through birthing pains. The first election under the U.S. Constitution in 1788 was no different.

In many ways, the Iraqis are duplicating the American experience. The Jan. 30 election will select 270 Iraqis to be members of a national assembly, which will choose a president and two deputy presidents. It will also name a prime minister and department ministers.

The assembly will then transform into a constitutional convention and begin the debate on the shape of the permanent Iraqi government. The deadline for the convention is Aug. 15.

In the United States, state legislatures agreed to a convention to meet in Philadelphia in May 1787. That group unanimously elected George Washington as its president and began the debate on what would become the U.S. Constitution.

And the debate was tough. The rights of large vs. small states, the style and shape of the Congress, and slavery were just some of the issues dividing the convention. In September 1787, the delegates finished and signed the Constitution and presented it to the people.

The U.S. Constitution would go into effect if nine of the then 13 states ratified the document. Delaware was the first state to approve it in December 1787, but there was fierce debate over the document in several states. By June 1788, nine states ratified the document, which led to formally acceptance and a committee appointed to plan transition to the new U.S. government.

For Iraq, the draft constitution will be presented to the people for a general referendum. That vote must be held no later than Oct. 15, 2005. The constitution will be approved if a majority of the voters of Iraq approve it and "if two-thirds of the voters in three or more governates do not reject it."

Once the draft constitution is approved, elections to fill the new government will be held no later than Dec. 15, 2005.

Other similarities exist in that there was a rebellion in the United States and there is an insurgency in Iraq. The nations of the world predicted that the United States would never prosper and that democracy would never work.

While there are similarities on the U.S. constitutional process, there are obvious differences. First, the Iraqi national assembly, must by law, be one- third female. Women couldn't even vote in the United States until 1920.

Secondly, the people direct elections will approve the document. In the United States, special state conventions debated and voted on the document.

Thirdly, Iraq has a basis of experience from other countries to draw from; whereas, such U.S. choices were very limited back in the 1700s.

Whatever government Iraq ends up with begins with the elections Jan. 30. While that will be a great day in the history of this ancient land, it is just one of many steps that must be taken.

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