They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people: Don't come and bother us, because we will kill you. Bush - Joint News Conference with Blair - 28 July '06

Monday, September 26, 2005

Unmaking Iraq: A Constitutional Process Gone Awry

ICG: Instead of healing the growing divisions between Iraq's three principal communities - Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs - a rushed constitutional process has deepened rifts and hardened feelings. Without a strong U.S.-led initiative to assuage Sunni Arab concerns, the constitution is likely to fuel rather than dampen the insurgency, encourage ethnic and sectarian violence, and hasten the country's violent break-up.

At the outset of the drafting process in June-July 2005, Sunni Arab inclusion was the litmus test of Iraqi and U.S. ability to defeat the insurgency through a political strategy. When U.S. brokering brought fifteen Sunni Arab political leaders onto the Constitutional Committee, hopes were raised that an all-encompassing compact between the communities might be reached as a starting point for stabilising the country. Regrettably, the Bush administration chose to sacrifice inclusiveness for the sake of an arbitrary deadline, apparently in hopes of preparing the ground for a significant military draw-down in 2006. As a result, the constitution-making process became a new stake in the political battle rather than an instrument to resolve it.

Rushing the constitution produced two casualties. The first was consensus. Sunni Arabs felt increasingly marginalised from negotiations beginning in early August when these were moved from the Constitutional Committee to an informal forum of Shiite and Kurdish leaders, and have refused to sign on to the various drafts they were shown since that time. The text that has now been accepted by the Transitional National Assembly, in their view, threatens their existential interests by implicitly facilitating the country's dissolution, which would leave them landlocked and bereft of resources.

The second casualty was the text itself. Key passages, such as those dealing with decentralisation and with the responsibility for the power of taxation, are both vague and ambiguous and so carry the seeds of future discord. Many vital areas are left for future legislation that will have less standing than the constitution, be more vulnerable to amendment and bear the sectarian imprint of the Shiite community given its likely dominance of future legislatures.

On 15 October 2005, Iraqis will be asked, in an up-or-down referendum, to embrace a weak document that lacks consensus. In what may be the worst possible outcome, it is likely to pass, despite overwhelming Sunni Arab opposition. The Kurdish parties and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani have a proven ability to bring out their followers, and the Sunni Arabs are unlikely to clear the threshold of two thirds in three provinces required to defeat it. Such a result would leave Iraq divided, an easy prey to both insurgents and sectarian tensions that have dramatically increased over the past year. Read more