Eyewitness to IRAQ’s New Constitution
As his ancestral home of Iraq labors to create a democracy, Haider Ala Hamoudi has viewed the process from a front-row seat. The assistant professor at Pitt Law has become
an adviser to the writers of the country’s new constitution, spending nearly half of the past seven years in Baghdad.
Hamoudi is fascinated by the pace of recent history in Iraq. “It’s moving from totalitarianism to democracy and near civil warto substantial reconciliation over the span of just a few years.” The prolific writer has chronicled his wry and insightful observations in Islamic Law in Our Times, a blog he founded in 2007, and in his blunt memoir of the early years of the American invasion, Howling in Mesopotamia, published in 2008. The University of Chicago Press will publish his book on the making and subsequent evolution of the Iraqi constitution next year.
For the 39-year-old native of Columbus, Ohio, Baghdad is almost a second home. Throughout his childhood, he visited family there; he is a fluent Arabic speaker. His mother’s cousin Ahmed Chalabi was a key figure in the Iraq Governing Council in 2003, and his uncle, Sheik Humam Baqir Hamoudi, is a prominent member of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq. The Council is one of the major parties of the Iraq National Alliance, which was the largest coalition in the previous Iraqi legislature. In 2003, he relocated to Baghdad, spending the next two years as a legal advisor to the finance committee of the Iraq Governing Council, while managing a program to improve legal education in Iraq.
In 2008 and 2009, after earning a doctorate from Columbia University Law School and joining the Pitt Law faculty, Hamoudi returned to the Green Zone to work on a project funded by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Office of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. There, he participated in all discussions related to a critical series of constitutional amendments designed to ensure Sunni support of the constitution. When the existing constitution was adopted in 2005 in a popular referendum, one key Sunni party supported it only on condition that amendments be made to it in short order. A constitutional review committee was then appointed by the first Iraqi legislature elected under the constitution.
Hamoudi describes his role with the committee, headed by his uncle, as that of a technical adviser who avoided giving political advice. “They don’t want or need a law professor from the United States to tell them how to solve a politically charged issue like whether the Kurdish regional government or the central government should control Kirkuk,” he says.
Now that the United States’ role in Iraq is winding down, Hamoudi’s focus has shifted to early interpretations of the new constitution. “Most of what has been written about the constitution [in the news media] depicts it as a divisive document,” says Hamoudi. “That was true at the drafting. But something happened after the civil war.” Hamoudi argues in his upcoming work that the political reconciliation has led to changed understandings of the document.
While he admits that a constitutional provision regarding “the role of Islam as a source of law is argued endlessly,” he says that current interpretations seem to make this more a matter of symbol than substance. “When I worked with the commerce committee of the legislature on drafting an antitrust law, nobody suggested we should even look at, much less use, any of the rules that medieval and and modern Islamic law jurists had developed on matters of commerce.”
With federalism, Hamoudi argues much the same is true. “As a matter of practice and custom, provinces have considerable power in financial and administrative affairs, but not much else, which is a position everyone it seems can live with. The federal court has adopted readings of the constitution consistent with this. So the court is playing a strong role in endorsing and legitimizing arrangements [that are] on the ground.”
Hamoudi hopes to return to Iraq after the new parliament begins its work, which would be after a government is formed. Meanwhile, he’ll be completing his book manuscript and teaching contracts, commercial transactions and Islamic law at Pitt, where his wife Sara Abdullah, a graduate of Suleymania University Law School in northwestern Iraq, will receive her J.D. degree in May 2011.