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October 12, 2005
Will The Changes Be Enough?

The Iraqis followed their pattern of thirteenth-hour breakthroughs on political issues yesterday by reaching agreement with some Sunni groups on additions to the proposed constitution that goes to the voters on Saturday. However, confusion arose overnight as to whether the National Assembly needed to approve those changes and how to inform the voters of the new text of the measure that they will approve or reject:

Iraqi political leaders said they had agreed to an important last-minute change in the draft constitution on Tuesday evening in exchange for a promise by some prominent Sunni Arab leaders to give public support to the document in the nationwide referendum on Saturday.

The change would create a panel in the next parliament with the power to propose broad new revisions to the constitution. In effect, the change could give the Sunnis - who were largely shut out of the constitution-writing process - a new chance to help redraft the document after elections in December.

The agreement was a major victory for American officials, who had spent weeks urging Iraq's Shiite and Kurdish leaders to make changes that could soften Sunni opposition to the charter and forge a broader consensus. The Americans had voiced fears that if the constitution passed over strong Sunni opposition, more would turn toward violence. ...

The constitutional change would need to be approved by the National Assembly, which will convene on Wednesday for that purpose. That is likely to be a formality, as the lawmakers generally follow their party leaders.

However, the National Assembly had dispersed for Ramadan, and may not get reassembled in time to form a quorum. They had attempted to do so earlier this week to strip a former defense minister of his immunity from prosecution so that he could stand trial for misappropriating a billion dollars in reconstruction aid. Given the importance of the constitutional change, the motivation will increase for the representatives to return to Baghdad, but it's not as easy as it sounds. They need to also return to their homes in time to vote in the referendum, and a round trip during a period when Zarqawi's terrorists plan to be especially active creates a difficult logistical problem.

Not all of them believe the trip is necessary for the changes to take place anyway:

Meanwhile, It also was not clear whether the lawmakers who do attend the session would be asked to approve a final version of the draft constitution incorporating Tuesday's last-minute compromises, or simply to discuss it. Either way, the legislative session could simply be a formality since the lawmakers generally follow their party leaders.

"We do not know whether we will be voting on the deal reached by the leaders of the main parties, or (are) just being informed about it," said Shiite lawmaker Khalid al-Atiyah. "The special session has been scheduled to begin at 7 o'clock tonight to give lawmakers in the provinces the time they need to return to Baghdad," he said in an interview.

It seems that a ruling on this point might be helpful, but the time has almost run out. If it requires approval from the National Assembly, then it could create a post-plebescite trap in which the Assembly might reject an agreement that one could argue still wouldn't negate an approval at Saturday's polls, since the referendum itself could arguably rely on the original constitutional text. If that happens, the Sunnis would likely walk out on the Assembly.

Right now, the agreement has borne hopeful fruit. At least some Sunni groups have called for approval of the latest text, assuming that the Assembly doesn't hang it up. Not all of them have fallen in line, but any division among the Sunnis works towards the favor of the constitution. The question remains as to whether enough Sunnis come aboard to seriously derail the insurgency. Will 10% be enough? Will 20% be enough?

The Iraqis do seem to have caught on to democracy. Perhaps in the future, they can work on their timing. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for a big turnout and an overwhelmingly positive response to the new text.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 12, 2005 6:04 AM

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» Iraq Heading To Constitutional Win from The Strata-Sphere
It is hard not to be bully on Iraq. Those people suffered through 30 years of terrible oppression, torture and mass graves. And after we liberated them, they have had to deal with blood thirsty Al Qaeda terrorists who make Saddam look normal. And t... [Read More]

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» Deal in Iraq Raises Hopes For Passage of Constitut from Don Singleton
The Sunnis shot themselves in the foot when they boycotted the last election, and they would have repeated that mistake if they had boycotted or come out against the Constitution, since a new constitution would not have had the US pushing for concess... [Read More]

Tracked on October 12, 2005 9:44 AM

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