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August 22, 2005
Sunnis May Miss The Boat Again

Another deadline approaches for the Iraqis to create a draft constitution for approval by the National Aassembly, and this time the Shi'a and the Kurds do not intend to let Sunni intransigence to derail the process. A broad agreement on the text has apparently been reached between secular and religious Shi'ite factions and the Kurds, while the Sunnis who have dragged their feet during the entire process now want unanimity before it goes to the Assembly:

A Shiite negotiator said Monday a draft constitution would be presented to Iraq's parliament, but a key Sunni Arab delegate said talk of a deal was premature and he doubted an agreement was possible by the midnight deadline. ...

One of the top Sunni Arab negotiators, Saleh al-Mutlaq, told Al-Arabiya television that he was "surprised by these statements" from the Shiites.

"There are still major points of disagreement," al-Mutlaq said. "I don't think we will reach a solution for them in the next few hours. We are holding talks with the Kurdish brothers and the brothers in the (Shiite) alliance and we haven't reached unanimity so far. The meetings are now taking place, and they claim that an agreement has been reached." ...

Jalaaldin al-Saghir, a Shiite negotiator, said the constitution "has a time limit that we do not want to breach."

"We had talks with our Sunni brothers at the end some of the Arab Sunnis reached several conclusions," he said. "We cannot wait for all the time needed by those people to be convinced. We agree that the constitution, including federalism, be put before the people. If the Arab Sunnis do not want to vote in favor of federalism, then they can reject the constitution."

In other words, we find ourselves in much the same position we did last week -- with a draft that could win a wide majority of votes in the National Assembly but fail to garner much support among the Sunni. At some point, however, that may be as good as it will get, as the Sunni do not seem terribly interested in coming to any agreement. Democracy does not require unanimity; it only requires that the majority view prevails and that the minority accept this as a legitimate outcome.

The latter part of that formula will get tested in the constitutional process, first in the assembly and later when the Iraqis vote on the proposal in a national referendum. The Sunnis could fight it out in the elections, but that would require them to engage more fully in the political system than they have done before. The National Assembly could also address the concerns themselves before the referendum, tweaking the draft to address more of the Sunni concerns, assuming that the Sunnis get serious about learning to live as a minority in a democracy as opposed to the privileged class in a genocidal tyranny.

In either case, it doesn't appear that the extra week did much to resolve the basic underlying tensions. In the end, competing interests will rarely result in unanimity. That is both the curse and the blessing of democracy, and the Iraqis will need to learn how to adapt to it.

UPDATE: The National Assembly will take three more days to try to get the recalcitrant Sunnis on board:

Iraqi leaders finished their draft constitution Monday and prepared to submit it to parliament but withdrew it in the final minutes in order to give time to win over the Sunni Arab community, whose support is key to ending the insurgency.

The parliament gathered with just minutes remaining before a midnight deadline to adopt the constitution. The document still faced fierce resistance from minority Sunnis over such issues as federalism, which they fear could cut them out of most of the country's vast oil wealth, and ridding the government of members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

Parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani then announced that there was strong interest in reaching unanimity on the draft "so that the constitution pleases everyone."

If the threshold by which Iraqis measure success requires pleasing everyone, then they had better get used to disappointment. Democracy means that everyone gets a voice, but most of the time the result pleases few while mollifying the many.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 22, 2005 12:10 PM

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It’s being reported an agreement about Iraq’s constitution has been accepted by the parties involved. National Assembly member Bahaa Al-Aaraji just told Al-Iraqia TV that an agreement has finally been reached among the leaders of politica... [Read More]

Tracked on August 22, 2005 2:07 PM

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