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September 18, 2005
Iraq Parliament Approves Constitution

Tiring of unending demands for change from its Sunni minority, the Iraqi National Assembly approved the proposed constitution with a few added amendments intended on attracting Sunnis despite the intransigence of their representatives:

Iraq's parliament signed off on revisions to the country's draft constitution Sunday as a leading lawmaker declared that acceptance of the new charter was a matter for the people, not the parliament.

Hussain al-Shahristani, deputy National Assembly speaker, said the new text was given to the United Nations, which will print 5 million copies and distribute them to Iraqis before the Oct. 15 national referendum on the new basic law.

The original draft was not voted on by parliament, and al-Shahristani did not call for legislative approval of the amendments.

"The vote on this ... is the right of the people, not their representatives," he said.

The changes to the document included an apparent bow to demands from the Arab League that the charter describe Iraq as a founding member of the pan-Arab organization and affirm that Iraq is "committed to its charter."

Other changes included holding the federal government responsible for managing water resources and the creation of two deputy prime minister positions for the Cabinet.

The Kurds and Shi'ites finally decided that the Sunni representatives would never offer an endorsement of a federal constitution, instead obstructing until the prevailing temporary rules forced parliament to prorogue itself and start over from scratch. Recognizing that Iraq belongs to the Arab League and should remain within its charter certainly will rankle the Kurds, for whom the Arab League has done little over the decades. Placing water control at the federal level rather than provincial promises more issues in delivery and prioritization, but doesn't appear to create the insurmountable problems that nationalization of oil revenue would have brought to the politics of Iraq.

Will those changes be enough for the constitution to avoid an electoral veto? Sunnis have an overwhelming majority in two provinces and a thin majority in the third, with Baghdad as its center. The constitution would have to lose by two-thirds vote in at least three provinces to fail overall, and the Sunnis have ironically started a massive voter-registration drive to block democratic reform. However, the numbers make it clear that Sunnis can only carry two provinces in enough numbers to block the ratification -- and that only if they remain united in a bloc. The effort to get out the vote tacitly endorses the entire notion of democracy, and that may prove habit-forming for the Sunnis despite their leadership.

The Kurds and Shi'ites waited as long as they possibly could to get the Sunnis to engage. The Sunnis will once again find themselves on the outside looking in, thanks to their insistence on dominating political life in Iraq despite their minority status.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 18, 2005 9:33 AM

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