RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) interviewed members of minority religious communities in Ba'qubah, Al-Nasiriyah, and Dahuk this week to gauge their opinions on the draft constitution.
Christians and Mandeans interviewed in Ba'qubah on 29 August gave differing opinions on the constitution, with some voicing concern over minority and religious rights.
Joseph Faridun, a Christian, told RFI: "Regarding the constitution that all Iraqis were impatiently waiting for, it contains many points that do not [support] minor religious groups, especially Christians and Sabeans. Sincere and democratic attention must really be paid to not marginalizing these [minority] ethnic and religious groups. On the contrary, in a proper democracy as we understand it according to other constitutions in the world, every Iraqi citizen must simply be seen as an Iraqi citizen and nothing more. The constitution and all laws must apply to him or her as they apply to anybody else from any other ethnic, religious, or other community."
Asked whether he, "as a Christian," supported federalism, Faridun said, "No, I do not support this point. The creation of [federal] regions would work to divide Iraq. We are people who have historically, for thousands of years, been known as one single people, with many religions and ethnicities. I am an Iraqi; I define myself as an Iraqi. I do not communicate with my colleagues, neighbors, and friends through the prism of their being Muslims, Sabeans, or Yezidis. I know that a person is an Iraqi and a colleague, neighbor, or friend of mine. I do not understand the issue of dividing [the country] into [federal] regions...I am, sincerely, against this idea."
Samira Qaysar, a Christian woman told RFI: "I wish all Iraqi people, with all their social and religious groups: prosperity, security, and an undivided Iraq. We all live in a single country, from the north to the south."
An unnamed Christian man complained there was no reference to the longstanding roots of Christianity in Iraq. "At the outset [I want to say]: is it possible to cover up the rise of the sun and moon? The first religion that entered the soil of Mesopotamia, and on the Chaldean soil of Babylon, was the monotheistic religion of Lord Jesus, peace be upon him. We have not found any confirmation of this in the constitution, while there have been references to other [religions]. Oh, constitution-drafting committee, where shall we find our rights that we were deprived of in the past?"
An unnamed Mandean man: "This constitution includes general regulations. These general regulations must be documented in the form of laws so that they guarantee the interests of minorities, be they Sabeans, or non-Sabeans, or even Muslims...or Kurds, and all [religious] groups in Iraq."
"By God, as a Mandean, I do agree [with this constitution]. It is better than nothing. This is on the one hand. On the other hand, this constitution is the beginning of the establishment of democracy in Iraq in the area that we live in, or in the Middle East in general."
A Mandean man identified as Abu Zayd also voiced support for the draft, saying: "The constitution basically represents two points: First, this constitution recognizes various communities in society; second, it guarantees the interests of those various communities and religious groups in a compatible way. It is by far sufficient if any religious group is mentioned in the constitution and [supported] by the existence of a human-rights law, which means the freedoms of thought, belief, and performing rituals.
"Well, I see [the constitution] as good when it includes this condition; it is not bad. But I can say at the same time that there has unfortunately been absolutely no mention of a law on [the proper] treatment of animals. This is an issue that hurts. I believe that [enacting] a law on the fair treatment of animals would be the best measure of the nobility of the constitution."
Another Mandean man said the constitution "has not brought anything to the Iraqi people as a whole, and especially not to the [Mandean] religious community. No ambitions that we would hope for [have been met]."
RFI spoke with representatives of various religious groups in Al-Nasiriyah on 30 August. Hakim Salim, head of the Mandean (Sabean) community in Dhi Qar governorate, called the constitution an "important document for all peoples," adding: "It represents their ambitions and progress. It is the same in all advanced societies. We wish that the Iraqi constitution, God willing, fulfills the ambitions of the Iraqi people, of all its communities and ethnic and religious groups so that Iraqis are able to complete their duties properly in this regard."
Asked whether he expects the constitution will guarantee the rights of his faith and other religious communities, he said: "We hope the National Assembly and the government will take all ethnic groups into account so that they are properly represented."
Musa Ibadi, member of the Mandean (Sabean) community told RFI: "We are positive about this constitution and its draft. Our rights are guaranteed in this constitution, God willing."
Izz al-Din Baqasri, a Yezidi representative in the Kurdish parliament, told RFI's Dahuk correspondent on 30 August that the draft, while not perfect, affords basic rights to minority religious communities. "The Iraqi people are comprised of several ethnic and religious communities. This constitution is for now, in my opinion, the best constitution ever drafted in the Middle East region and especially in a multiethnic and multireligious country like Iraq. This constitution includes the rights of all those religious and ethnic communities. We cannot say that every ethnic and religious community has gained everything it wanted from this constitution but it includes the basic rights of all these communities. Inevitably, when the constitution is drafted in a country like Iraq, stability must be secured by means of that constitution. Law must be the rule in the country. The logic of law must be ruling after this constitution is approved in a referendum," he said.
Baqasri contended that federalism "is one of the best systems for stabilizing the situation in Iraq," adding: "Terrorism has been decreasing in this country, and I think that there will be an even greater decrease after the constitution is approved [in a referendum]."
Asked about opposition to the draft, he said: "It is no wonder that some [groups] oppose this constitution, especially those who were ruling Iraq from 1921 up until now [a reference to the Sunni Arabs]. The only reason why these circles oppose it is that they have been deprived of their rule."See also:
Sunnis Weigh In On Draft Constitution
Liberal Women Worry Draft Constitution Could Roll Back Some Rights
Writing Of Draft Constitution Ends Amid Disputes