A Lonely Crusader Against Iraqi Dual Citizens

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Mazin Ezzat for TIME

Judge Dr. Wael A. Al-Fadel, a member of Iraq's Parliament

Iraq's post-Saddam Constitution forbids those holding national political office from holding multiple passports, yet according to government insiders, at least seven members of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's 37-strong Cabinet have dual citizenship. That may be in part because today's Iraq is ruled by former political exiles who fled Saddam Hussein's tyrannical regime. Not all of them took up citizenship in their places of sanctuary — Prime Minister al-Maliki, who was in Syria and Iran, is believed to be a citizen only of Iraq. Still, a significant number of parliamentarians hold multiple citizenships.

Holding a second passport gives politicians a readymade Plan B if their policies end up making Iraq worse rather than better, and it could also raise suspicions of divided loyalties. More importantly, though, the brazen violation of Article 18.4 of the Iraqi Constitution could set a precedent by allowing the country's basic law to be cherry picked. And independent Shi'ite lawmaker Wael Abdel-Latif al-Fadel is having none of it. The 58-year-old former judge is preparing lawsuits against a number of cabinet ministers and parliamentarians who have failed to rescind their second nationality.

Fadel, who was a member of the interim U.S.-appointed Governing Council in 2003, knows he's taking a dangerous stand. He says he's received threats from "big political parties, from some countries, from militias." Still, he refuses to be intimidated. "They want me to withdraw from politics or remain silent like one of the bricks of the parliament building. This is not something I can accept," he says. "I will not back down."

Three months ago, Fadel formed a movement, the Hizb al-Dawla, or Party of the State, which seeks to help build a strong state that respects the Constitution and its laws. Its membership of technocrats, lawyers, journalists, other professionals as well as ordinary folk, is in the tens of thousands, Fadel claims. But otherwise, the white-haired, mustachioed former judge says that he has not found any public support in parliament. "Who's going to support me? They're all involved. My only support is the law and the constitution," he says.

Even Kurdish lawmakers, who pin their hopes for the resolution of several disputed territories on Article 140 of the Constitution, have not publicly sided with Fadel. That Article speaks to the thorny issue of the status of the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, which Kurds want to incorporate into their semi-autonomous northern region. It states that a population census and referendum to determine the future of the ethnically mixed city should have been held in 2007. Those steps haven't been taken, and Kurdish parliamentarians are getting antsy. "Any steps overtaking Article 140 for us, is just like overturning the Constitution and that's a dangerous thing for the future of Iraq," says Abdul-Bari al-Zebari, a Kurdish lawmaker. "The security and unity of Iraq is related to how much we tie ourselves to the Constitution."

To Fadel, the Constitution is king. The former governor of Basra is almost obsessive when he speaks of his desire to prevent violations of the document he helped draft. Fadel — who was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein's regime for a year, stripped of his right to practice law or leave the country — says that if the former Iraqi strongman couldn't break him, today's powerbrokers won't either.

"We approve and enact laws, we should be the first to uphold them," he says. "The idea that you can pick and choose which laws you will uphold is not acceptable. Laws are just not optional."

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