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August 29, 2005
Sunnis Gamble And Lose On Constitution

Despite two extensions and the outreach effort that allowed outsized representation on the drafting committee, in the end the Sunnis would not show enough flexibility to complete an agreement on the new Iraqi constitution. The National Assembly has decided to exercise democracy over consensus and send the draft to a vote, a decision that threatens once again to marginalize the Sunnis unless they participate in the electoral process:

Iraqi leaders completed a draft of a permanent constitution Sunday after three months of negotiations that left Sunni Arabs unsatisfied, setting up a potentially divisive nationwide referendum on the document to be held by Oct. 15.

Members of the committee that convened in May to write the document ended their official duties by signing the draft and sending it to the National Assembly, where it was read aloud to members. Some Sunnis, who had unsuccessfully sought the elimination of a clause allowing power to be devolved from the central government to autonomous regions, walked out while the draft was read.

The Kurds and Shiites attempted to compromise with the Sunnis, even going as far as an offer to reinstate the Ba'ath Party, minus any support for Saddam and his propaganda. They offered to postpone any motions for federalism, keeping the concept but not exercising it until the next Assembly could get elected, save for the Kurds' hard-fought autonomy. In return, the Sunnis submitted a new list of demands in the final hours, demonstrating their bad faith and determination to sink any agreement that did not restore them to power.

The American ambassador said he thinks most of the Sunnis supported the document but could not afford to say so. Zalmay Khalizad noted that the Sunnis have come under strong pressure from the terrorist groups to oppose any constitution that sets Iraq up as a democracy and that the politicians fear assassination if they do or say anything positive. Perhaps this could turn out to be true. Voter registration is up in the Sunni areas, ostensibly to defeat the draft referendum -- but it could lead to a popular revolt against the violence that has mostly marred Sunni areas, and the constitution might get enough of the vote to pass.

On the other hand, the Guardian reports that the Sunnis have asked other Arab nations to step in and block the draft from going to the voters, along with the UN and other international organizations. That end-run around democracy will not please their fellow Iraqis in the Kurdish and Shi'ite territories. The Kurds especially will resent Arab League interference, especially since they've run their own democracy in the north for over a decade while the Arab League tried to force the Coalition to leave Iraq to Saddam during the entire time since Gulf War I. No one in either group trusts the UN to do anything beneficial for anyone but the Sunni complainers, either, but the likelihood of UN action will remain nil with the US and UK pushing for a vote.

We won't know the results of that vote until mid-October, and we can expect plenty of campaigning in Central Iraq to convince the Sunni rank and file that this deal will be the best they can get. Had they voted in the last election, they could have had their own representatives in the negotiations to tell them that. Hopefully Sunni voters will have seen the idiocy of their boycott and what they lost as a result, and will not make the same mistake twice.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 29, 2005 5:28 AM

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