This Week's Debate: Iraq's Constitution
This Saturday, Iraqis will head to the polls to vote on a proposed constitution. For a while now, the breakdown has been Shiites and Kurds in favor, Sunnis (whose minority sect ruled the country under Saddam Hussein) against. The big news right now is about a deal pushed by the American ambassador and brokered by various Iraqi political insiders, that has persuaded some Sunni leaders to encourage voting for the constitution. If the proposed constitution is approved, will it turn out to be all it's cracked up to be? (Or all it's feared to be?)
In an editorial today, the San Francisco Chronicle is understandably concerned that the constitution will split the country further, not unite it. The editorial also points out that Sunni leaders are still split -- some are telling their people to vote Yes, others still urging a No vote. To understand how the constitution could create the conditions for a more divided Iraq, this Washington Post editorial is a must read.
Remember, unless there is a two-thirds majority voting No in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces, the constitution will be approved. Eric Umansky's Slate piece, cleverly titled Sunni Side Up, provides a quick and useful roundup of yesterday's Iraq constitution news and notes, "Sunnis are about 20 percent of Iraq's population, with Shiites and Kurds -- who oppose Sunnis' constitutional preferences -- representing most of the remaining 80 percent. With changes to the constitution requiring support of two-thirds of the next parliament, aren't Sunnis' chances of pushing through revisions darn slim?"
University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole blogs about a bunch of interesting stories today, including a Reuters report that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a popular Shiite cleric, has urged Iraqis to vote Yes on the constitution. Sistani's support (if not his official endorsement) comes on top of the reasonably successful efforts to bring the Sunnis around. Still, Cole says, "I figure that the Sunni Arabs have at least some chance of carrying Anbar, Salah al-Din and Ninevah for a "no" vote, and some keen Iraqi observers appear to be afraid of this, as well."
Cole also notes news that parliament met to 'hear' some constitutional amendments -- but not actually vote on them. "I just scratch my head at 'amendments' to the 'constitution' that are 'adopted' but never voted on by parliament," Cole writes. "Things are being done by powerful party leaders dickering with one another in closed rooms thick with cigarette smoke, and then just announced. No vote is necessary. It has all been taken care of already. Iraq has gone from being a dictatorship to being an oligarchy."
The Today in Iraq blog is skeptical of the methods used to persuade the Sunnis. "So: A backroom deal was reached by the US ambassador and the local equivalents of ward bosses that changed the draft constitution in a process completely outside the agreed framework for how the document would be created. What is the great breakthrough change? Apparently it is a mechanism for amending the constitution."
Today in Iraq blogger Matt also raises the question of how many Sunnis are going to hear about this compromise in time with just a few days left until the vote. If they are inundated with news about the change and vote yes as a consequence, they'll figure out pretty soon after the constitution is approved that they were "suckered."
The Boston Globe calls the deal a "desperate but necessary attempt to compensate for a succession of avoidable blunders."
David Adesnik of Oxblog thinks this Sunni support deal is a huge success for American diplomacy -- and if it flips Sunni opinion to pro-constitution across the country, that would indeed be an impressive feat. But we won't know until after the votes are counted in each region.
(Speaking of the Sunni vote, USA Today reports that Saddam Hussein "is allowed to vote but probably won't because he doesn't recognize the legitimacy of political developments since the U.S.-led invasion.")
Plenty more to discuss on this huge subject, but we'll leave it here for now. Debaters, what do you think of the Sunni compromise? Where is Iraq headed from here?
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