Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Constitutionally Sounds

The somewhat surreal process whereby negotiations are ongoing concerning the Iraqi Constitution that was ostensibly "completed" in draft form on August 28th, appears to be bogged down by the familiar, but stubborn, competing interests (as noted yesterday). This little more than a month before the draft document is put before the entire nation for an up/down referendum on October 15. Recent news brings no cause for optimism, as the Sunni faction begins maneuvering for the kill (via Juan Cole).

Sunni Arab negotiators have asked the United Nations for guarantees to ensure a fair referendum on Iraq's draft constitution on Oct. 15, a member of the Sunni delegation said on Tuesday.

Hussein al Falluji said the delegation told the UN Special Envoy to Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, that Sunni Arabs were frustrated, and rejected the constitution in its present form.

"We met Ashraf Qazi last night at his request," negotiator Falluji said. "We told him that we, as Sunni Arabs, reject the constitution, we do not want it," he told Reuters.[...]

"We want real assurances that the referendum process is going to be fair without any forgery or manipulation," he said.
Pessimists might want to point to this impasse and say that the Constitution will fail to provide Sunnis with a sense of ownership of the new Iraq, and thus give sustenance to the insurgency. But that is premised on the fact that a consensus Constitution is possible, and even then, that such a document would impede the progress of the insurgency - a dubious contention considering how many different "insurgencies" there are. At best, an included Sunni population will make it easier to isolate and alienate the die hard insurgents and foreign fighters who want no political solution or peace. Not that such a development would be entirely insignificant.

Optimists might want to view these developments as a positive, pointing out that the Sunnis are seeking political solutions rather than violent ones to address their grievances. But, as the violence in Iraq today indicates, this looks more like covering all bets, rather than a realignment of tactics. Logically speaking, the Sunnis (to the extent that there is any uniformity of strategy and objectives), would likely seek to engage every fora for advancing their interests. The political realm is one such forum. But so is insurgent violence. The two are not, unfortunately, mutually exclusive.

The Reuters article also picks up on this twist:

Falluji said that his delegation had also asked for an explanation of the veto article.

"We want to know if two thirds of people who actually cast votes in three provinces could turn it down, or two thirds of the eligible voters."

"Because if it's two thirds of actual voters, then this is easy: the constitution will be turned down. But if it's two thirds of eligible voters, then it will be almost impossible to reject it."
I think Juan Cole is right when he argues that since the Kurds wanted this veto right, and were the ones insistent on its inclusion, the most accurate interpretation would be that two-thirds of actual voters, not eligible voters, would be the threshold for vetoing the Constitution. Of course, that might not stop the Kurds (who are in favor of the Constitution), from asserting the opposite.

Here's today's Iraq lose-lose predicament: If the Kurds and Sunnis pretend like the two-thirds provision is meant to be two-thirds of the eligible voters, and not actual voters, the Constitution might pass the national referendum. But then the Sunni population will be even more alienated, and any opportunity to isolate and marginalize certain strains of the insurgency will be lost. On the contrary, there might even be an increase in support for the insurgency from a more desperate Sunni population with fewer and fewer alternative outlets.

But, on the other hand, if the Kurds and Shiites acknowledge that the veto provision calls for two-thirds of the actual voters, then the Constitution will likely be shot down in the referendum, and it will be back to square one.

In my opinion, the latter option is the lesser of two evils (assuming no miraculous 11th hour compromise is reached to the satisfaction of all parties). A loss in the referendum might force the Shiites and Kurds to acknowledge that they need the Sunnis on board, and could lead to an increased willingness to compromise (at least to the extent that the Shiites and Kurds aren't content to let a de facto fragmentation of the nation settle in). This might not fit well into the Bush Administration's timeline for withdrawal, but this process will not turn out well if hurried along by impatient outsiders. It might not turn out well regardless.

(cross-posted at Liberals v. Terrorism)

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