home rule for Baghdad

A reliable friend gave me a professionally printed document entitled “The Law of Home Rule of the City of Baghdad: Enacted by the Baghdad City Council on Behalf of the Citizens of the City of Baghdad” (Draft, June 2, 2004. Adopted: ______ 2004). I cannot find this document with a Google search, but it looks genuine, and it’s interesting on several levels.


First, style. The preamble seems to have been written by Baghdadis: “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate … Treasuring the many wonders of our unique City, recognizing that Baghdad has served as the [sic] cultural and educational center of the world and has a future as one of the world’s greatest cities ….” The mayor or city manager is called an Amin, and his administration is the Aminate–in a nod to Arabic. However, many portions of the main text appear to have been borrowed verbatim from US boilerplate. For example, there’s a “severability clause” at the end to ensure that the rest of the charter will remain in force if any part is struck down by a court. Other clauses sound to me like the work of US advisers who are trying to explain the document in lay terms. For example: “This Charter specifically does not set forth all the powers that may be exercised by the District Councils.” This doesn’t sound like legalese to me. I can imagine a nervous non-lawyer adding it to make sure that the District Councils are not overly limited.

Moving to substance: the charter basically creates a city manager system, on the model pioneered in America during the Progressive Era. All power is vested in an elected council that hires a professional Amin with considerable authority; he (or conceivably she) serves at the council’s pleasure.

The city has home rule, but its independence is somewhat exaggerated. For example, one of the city’s “authorities” is the police, but it turns out that Baghdad can only “consult and advise the Provincial Council and the Ministry of the Interior regarding requirements for adequate law enforcement services.” The city doesn’t actually run a police force.

In addition to the citywide council, there are to be District Councils and Neighborhood Councils. The District Councils can propose legislation (which must be voted in the City Council), they may review all appointments by the Amin, they may propose budgets for capital improvements, and they may be given additional powers. This sounds like real power to me. The Neighborhood Councils can propose legislation and are guaranteed a regular opportunity to see the city’s annual report, budget, and plan. That is not a major allocation of power, but it may increase transparency and participation at the neighborhood level.

I’m not one to exaggerate the importance of constitutions, charters, and other pieces of paper. Political culture is more important, and it’s hard to know whether the norms assumed by this document are realistic or appropriate. I’d love to know more about how it was written and what Baghdadis think of it.

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