Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Constitution, What A Show, The Constitution, Here We Go...

Citing a Reuters article, Juan Cole sounds, um, less than optimistic about the on again/off again draft of the Iraqi Constitution that is or isn't finished.

The final text of the Iraqi constitution has still not been worked out, and so the United Nations cannot begin to print it in several million copies so that Iraqi voters can read it before the October 15 referendum. It is going to be very difficult to get the printing and distribution done with only a month to go.

The ongoing negotiations seem to open a new can of worms every day. The Kurds want a lock on the veto that the presidential council can cast with regard to legislation, by insisting on having two of the vice president posts. An ethnic litmus test for political office ought not be in the constitution, in my view, whatever the actual practice. The Shiites want control of water to be in the hands of the central government in Baghdad, which they control via their majority. The water comes to the southern Shiites via territory held by Sunni Arabs and Kurds.
The issue of water rights hasn't received as much attention as other obstacles to the Constitution drafting process (oil rights, Kirkuk, Federalism, civil rights, etc.), but it shouldn't surprise that the geographical control over this scarce but vital resource has led to yet another stumbling block. In the words of Saad Qandeel, a legislator from the Shi'ite majority quoted in the Reuters article:

"Water is more important to us than oil," Qandeel said, recalling the suffering of southern Shi'ites under Saddam Hussein, who diverted rivers and drained ancient marshlands.[emphasis added]
Cole goes on to describe a situation with competing drafts that would be slapstick if the stakes weren't so high. Instead, it is dark comedy:

It is a mess that the constitution is still being negotiated so many weeks after the August 22 deadline. You wonder if they will ever be able even to submit a final text for printing. Apparently the United Nations had to refuse to print the constitution last week because the Shiites and the Kurds gave them different versions! Even the US ambassador in Baghdad has a version that he has been reported to be pushing. United Nations officials have criticized the legitimacy of an outside power having that much impact on constitution-making in a sovereign country. Khalilzad, the ambassador, was the one who suggested that Iraqi politicians could go on tinkering with the text after it was submitted and finalized, which was probably a bad idea.
In Khalilzad's defense, the option of postponing and delaying the deadline for submitting a draft wasn't exactly a good idea either. It was a lose-lose situation, as has been so common a dilemma in post-invasion Iraq. Not to mention the fact that Khalilzad's bosses in Washington were probably stressing deadlines, benchmarks, expediency and any and all other adjectives and verbs that would hasten the creation of facts on the ground more conducive to troop withdrawal. Or at least the appearance thereof. Khalilzad went to the negotiations with the timeframe he had, not the timeframe he likely wanted.

(cross-posted at Liberals v. Terrorism)

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