After becoming emir, Hamad oversaw several reforms to the Qatari political system. To select new municipal officers in 1999, Qatar held its first popular elections ever. Both men and women were allowed to vote and to run for office. In 2002 a constitutional commission produced a draft constitution that called for the creation of a partially elected legislative body and guaranteed all Qatari citizens the right to vote as well as freedom of expression and religion. The new constitution was approved by public referendum in April 2003 and came into force in June 2005. While Hamad’s reforms are a source of anxiety for the more conservative rulers of several other Persian Gulf states, many observers believe that he is a model for a future generation of rulers in that region.
Hamad also cultivated relations with the United States and encouraged the U.S. military to use Qatari bases. In 2002 the United States began transferring many military facilities from Saudi Arabia to Qatar. Qatar served as a critical command center for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.