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Iraq vote means what?

10/17/2005

A relatively large proportion of Iraqis voted for (or against) their new constitution, probably approving it. This is considered by most optimists to be at least a temporary reprieve and possibly a great success.

Considering the situation in Iraq, all optimism has to be the "What Me, Worry?" variety. When you're doomed anyhow, there's no point in being pessimistic. The relatively large proportion of Iraqis (about 65%) who voted, didn't include many Sunni. Where Sunnis voted, in Anbar and Salhuddin, the new constitution was voted down heavily. This, despite support by the Iraq Islamic party a Sunni party, and despite a last minute compromise that will allow them to rework the constitution. However, they would need a 2/3 majority in three provinces to block the constitution, and that is (probably) not going to happen.

The deal that was worked out allows re-opening the constitution and amending it on key federative issues. Essentially, it means that the Iraqis voted, but it wasn't clear what they were voting about. What is the point of approving a constitution on the basis that you intend to change it? It's a bit like marrying a person on the basis that you will change them, and we all know that that doesn't work.

Jordan Times was optimistic about the "reprieve" given by the last minute amendment agreement, but the basis for optimism was not clear. Jordan Times explained:


The compromise reached hinges on allowing a new Iraqi parliament to be elected in December to take another look at the principal features of the constitution, with a view to amending the controversial points to the satisfaction of the Sunni minority


No resolution of the fundamental differences was achieved in the many months before the vote, and no resolution can be apparent after the vote. Sunnis apparently want a strong union, with themselves in charge. Most Shi'a and Kurds want a federation. One suspects that many Kurds want a federation as the next best thing to independence, which they can't have.

As Jordan Times notes, and as was proven in the long months of negotiations:


The issues that divide the Sunnis and the Shiites and Kurds remain thorny and difficult to overcome. The unity of the country versus its federation remains the primary issue.

There is little room for manoeuvring on this point, as both Shiites and Kurds are determined to consolidate their gains on this front.


And therefore, what is the conclusion?? According to Jordan Times, the conclusion is that somehow everything will be all right anyhow:


Where there is plenty of room for compromise is over the Baathists' place in the new Iraqi order.

The Sunnis would accept the marginalisation of Sunnis who were implicated in the gross and systematic human rights violations during the Saddam era, but would reject the call for their total exclusion. The stance is legitimate if reconciliation is part of the endgame.


Somehow, "Baathist" became synonymous for "Sunni" in the lexicon of the Jordan Times, though it is not necessarily the case. What they seem to be saying is that the new regime will be a little bit Baathist. It is not clear how this could be accomplished by constitutional amendment or whether or not it could be compatible with democracy. Could a reconstructed Germany be a little bit Nazi? Would that have been a wise and workable compromise?

In the best of all possible worlds, a good compromise would give rights to Sunnis, but not to Baathists. It is hard to believe that all 5 million or so Sunnis were implicated in the crimes of the Saddam regime, nor were all Baathists Sunnis. There were Shi'a Baathists and Christian Baathists too. However, in the real world, what Jordan Times is telling is, is that the problem is not one of ethnic minorities vying for equal representation, but rather it is due to the members of a political party that terrorized Iraq insisting on impunity and continued power. In such a situation it is not possible to win. If they are granted power there will be tyranny, and if they are excluded there will be civil war.

The mistake begins with the identification of all Sunni with the Baath party, which is incorrect and does an injustice to the Sunni. It is exactly what the followers of Saddam want, as it lends them legitimacy as representatives of a slighted minority. Though most Sunnis may be tied by clan loyalties to the Baathleaders, surely, not every Sunni was part of the ruling caste of Saddam's Iraq. And surely, the Sunni followers of Abu-mussab al Zarqawi are not "Baathists!"

In two or three months the same realities that determined the failure to reach agreement will still be present. The Iraqi compromise is a bit reminiscent of the "creative ambiguity" of the Oslo Accords. What we should have learned from the Oslo Accords is that postponing a problem doesn't make it go away. It usually makes it worse.

The hard core of the Iraqi opposition is not interested in constitutions and power sharing and similar democratic paraphernalia. They won't agree to put down their arms for any constitution whatever. Abu Mussab Al-Zarqawi wants a caliphate, not a constitution. Saddam's followers want a Baathist republic, Moqtada Sadr wants a radical Shi'a state of some sort. None of them want democracy and none are interested in power sharing. These groups may be small, but they don't have to be big to leverage on the power of terror and violence with or without the added weight of religious authority.

At least, passage of the constitution in a semi-orderly way (if indeed it passed) signals that success is still possible. If the elections had been a disorderly rout of suicide bombings, we could give up hope now. What will determine ultimate success however, is not the verbiage that might be changed in the constitution, but rather the ability of the Iraqi government to govern: to field an an army and defend itself, to restore law and order and to provide basic services for its people. Thus far there is no indication that that can happen. The Iraqi government is on life support provided by the Americans and the British. If reconstruction fails, it is blamed on the coalition forces rather than the Iraqs. If there is violence and lawlessness, it is somehow the fault of the coalition forces. Without the ability to govern, the constitution is only good for wallpaper or kindling. If and when the Iraqi government shows signs of life, it will be strong enough to put down the challenges to its authority. If all parties understand that the government can put down the challenge of hard-core radicals, everyone will magically stop quibbling and asking for the impossible.

Ami Isseroff

P.S. - After I wrote the above, it turned out that there had been "statistical irregularities" (probably fraud) in the voting process, so we can't even chalk up a clean vote as a success. Will anyone trust the results now?

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