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Separation of Church and State in Iraq

Nic writes to ask if we need to establish a separation of church and state in Iraq as part of our long-term strategy in the region.

A robust church-state separation, such as we have in the United States, is probably not practical in Iraq. In a democracy such as we intend to create, if the people oppose such a strong church-state separation they would (at best) change their constitution or (at worst) ignore their constitution. In either case, what emerges could be very bad.

Given our basic intent of creating a stable democracy in Iraq, we only need to establish enough church-state separation to prevent either the Shia or Sunni from imposing their respective variants of Islam upon the other. The government should also guarantee freedom of religious choice and should have no religious test for office.

I don't know what level of church-state separation is appropriate for Iraq. I hope it could be much more than the minimum I just described, but feel fairly confident that a total separation would break down quickly. I hope this decision would be made by the Iraqis themselves as they draft their constitution — they're in the position best able to understand how much church-state separation will be accepted by the people. I also hope that a few decades from now, when things have stabilized and they're ready for it, that they revisit this issue and strengthen the separation.

Tiny Island