Sharia in Iraq?

It appears that the Interim Governing Council in Iraq has passed a decree imposing sharia law on all Muslims. If implemented, that would be a huge setback for the status of women. Brad DeLong points to Juan Cole , who links to what seem convincing sources, including the Financial Times.

This Washington Post story on MSNBC has more detail. Apparently the decree was passed in secrecy in December, and word is only leaking out now, sparking demonstrations in Iraq. It’s not official without Bremer’s signature, which it’s not expected to get, but could be a good predictor of what will happen when sovereignty is restored in July.

I’d like an expert on Iraq to explain why this shouldn’t make us all extremely sad. I wasn’t really expecting anyting resembling a liberal democracy to come out of the war in Iraq — it’s likely that the more democratic the new state is, the less liberal it will be — but this seems to be an unexpectedly bad omen.

Expect to hear lots of “Is this what we fought for?” That’s good rhetoric, but bad logic. We fought to eliminate the threat (apparently overstated) that Iraq would acquire nuclear or biological weapons, in response to the belief (never very plausible) that the Iraqi regim had some sort of responsibility for 9-11 and/or served as a major source of support for terrorist organizations, and, not least, to replace a very bad regime that was very hostile to the US with a somewhat less bad regime that would be less hostile, or even friendly.

Something well short of liberal democracy would still be a big advance on what came before. But that shouldn’t make us any less reluctant to see the new Iraq become the sort of misogynistic theocratic tyranny that prevails in Saudi Arabia.

Those, including my favorite Presidential candidate, who have been urging a rapid devolution of power to the Iraqis need to explain why the imposition of sharia: (1) Won’t actually happen; (2) Wouldn’t be so bad; or (3) Can’t be avoided without unacceptable bad results. It’s not hard for me to believe that (3) is the case, but if it is someone should say so and say why. Let’s not pretend to be surprised when it happens.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: