Commentary: Iraqis Against Muslim State

By Ken Joseph Jr.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Saker Mohammed, 28, is a Shiite Muslim. In answer to the question of what kind of government he wants for the future of Iraq his reply is striking.

"We just want a normal government. Saddam was bad but it would be worse if it was religious. We do not want to become like Iran. We just want to be normal."

Hayder Mousa, 33 is a Sunni Muslim and a producer.

"I just want to be able to produce movies and work. I am a Muslim but I don't want religion in the government in any way. We just want to be a normal country. We definitely do not want to become like Iran."

Ali Hussein, 35 a Shiite Muslim office worker echoes their comments.

"We do not want an Islamic government. While we believe in Islam and the Koran too often the religious leaders work more for themselves and not for the people. All you have to do is look at Iran."

Majid Jabar, 32, also a Shiite businessman puts it ever stronger.

"We just want everyone out of our lives! Saddam destroyed our country and we do not want a new dictator to take his place. We believe very strongly that religion and government are and should be separate. If they are together there will be trouble like in Iran."

Hekmat Hakem, a member of the Constitutional Committee putting together a constitution under the Governing Council puts it even more bluntly.

"We are a very educated people. The constitutional committee has agreed that there will be no mention of religion or ideology in the new constitution. If there is any mention of ideology or religion it will be the end of democracy, the rule of law and equal rights in Iraq."

One can only be amazed to speak with Iraqis of all walks of life, and religions and find a strong desire to have religion and government separate. They constantly refer to neighboring Iran as an example of what they do not want to be.

Despite pronouncements to the contrary, slowly but surely an Islamic state is taking place in Iraq.

Recently the 1959 Civil Registration Law was overturned by the Governing Council and replaced by a new system based on the much-feared Islamic Law. The upcoming Fundamental Law -- a mini constitution states
clearly "Islam is the religion of the state" in Article 4 -- while granting collective religious rights, does not grant individual religious and personal freedom.

According to 33-year-old Fred George, an Assyrian-Christian who was born and raised in Iran, "This is just what they did in Iran! I remember. First they started with small things and then little by little they took over and one day we woke up and realized that it was too late."

"Why in the face of the vast majority of Iraqis who are adamantly against religious involvement in government and want simply what they term 'normal' government, ... does the Coalition Provision Authority and those in charge keep pushing for an Islamic State?" asks 24-year-old Robert George.

This is the question that is at the table. Nearly a year after the liberation of Iraq things are going wonderfully in Iraq.

Traffic is so bad it takes two hours to go where it previously took 15 minutes, young people are starting small businesses from Internet cafes to CD shops to everything in between on every street corner. The buzz is
back in Iraq and things are booming. The Iraqi dinar has doubled in value in less than one year.

Hanging over it all, though is the foreboding sense that it will all collapse on July 1 when the proposed handover of power is being planned.

"On July 1, we expect civil war. The Kurds will seal off their borders, the Shias to the south will separate and the middle will descend into chaos," says a U.S. official privately. "We expect the airport to close down -- no airline is going to fly into an airport like that."

Nassar Abu Zeid, 51, is a bit more crass.

"We don't want an Islamic country -- they will not allow us to drink and I love to drink. We want the Americans to stay until a good government is in place."

What is going on? Why in the world in the face of the clear intent of the people of Iraq, in poll after poll that they absolutely do not want a Muslim government and do not want a handover on July 1, is the United States intent on pushing it through?

No matter whom you ask officially in Baghdad, the response to this simple question is resounding silence.

Did the American people sacrifice the precious lives of over 550 beautiful young women and men to create the Islamic Republic of Iraq against the wishes of the people?

Sadek Zamel, 36, and a Shiite puts it this way.

"We don't want a religious government. We just want to be normal like the Americans. We want to travel -- we have not been able to travel outside the country for 13 years, we want to be able to take vacations, to be with our families -- to be normal."

The American people reluctantly agreed to a war in Iraq to free the Iraqi people from the nightmare of Saddam and to let the Iraqi people have the same freedom we enjoy.

Turning power over on July 1 will cause a civil war to break out and the result will be an Iraq far worse than under the worst of Saddam. When Iraq descends into chaos on July 1 and the calls for "who lost Iraq?" rise it will be far worse for the current administration than the slow but steady progress we now see in Iraq.

Now is the time to "stay the course," to keep to the original plan, which was to have a non-religious, normal constitution, elections with provisions for the persecuted minorities, autonomy for local regions and a
government in place. Then and only then would there be transfer of power.

The Islamic Republic of Iraq? The Iraqi people don't want it! The American people don't want it? Who does? Other than the thugs who use religion to maintain tight grip over the poor oppressed people nobody does.

The time has come to say "stop" to the march toward Islam. Cancel the July 1 transfer and go back to the original plan. Then and only then will Iraq be able to move in the direction all who sacrificed for its future deserve.

Hekmat Hakem, the Iraqi member of the Constitutional Committee puts it bluntly, "Do the Americans think we are stupid? We fought for 35 years against Saddam Hussein and finally got our freedom. We are not going to let
it happen again."

Bravo. He's right on the money. Somebody should listen before it is too late.

Rev. Ken Joseph Jr. is an Assyrian, the original people of Iraq and directs and is writing a book about his experience in Iraq titled "I Was Wrong."

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