The Corner

Restoring The 1925 Iraqi Constitution

In today’s <a href="

id=110004230″>, Bernard Lewis AND R. James Woolsely

offer an interesting suggestion of how to speed the Iraqi transition towards

constitutional government:

. . . The key is that Iraq already has a constitution. It

was legally adopted in 1925 and Iraq was governed under it until the series of

military, then Baathist, coups began in 1958 and brought over four decades of

steadily worsening dictatorship. Iraqis never chose to abandon their 1925

constitution–it was taken from them. The document is not ideal, and

it is doubtless not the constitution under which a modern democratic Iraq will

ultimately be governed. But a quick review indicates that it has some very

useful features that would permit it to be used on an interim basis while a

new constitution is drafted. Indeed, the latter could be approved as an

omnibus amendment to the 1925 document. . . .

While I find their

idea promising, I do have a quarrel with the last sentence in this summary of

their proposal. As historian Edmund Morgan emphasizes in his wonderful book,

Inventing the People (which I highly

recommend), and as our founders well understood, constitutions are meant to

govern legislatures and the other branches of government and should not be

modifiable by them without approval from some outside body. In our

case it was state constitutional conventions; other alternatives are possible

including multiple referenda. But it is of utmost importance that no

precedent be established that the constitution can be altered or amended by

even a super majority of the body it is most needed to constrain.

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