Iraq: A time for cautious optimism?

Apparently, the provisional Iraqi Constitution has been approved by the voters.

Two large provinces dominated by Sunni Arabs voted no on the Constitution and at least two others gave it only only a slim margin of support. As a result, Juan Cole tells The Washington Post that “this thing is an enormous fiasco,” because in the absence of a consensus, the Constitution and the political process itself will lack legitimacy and the insurgency will still find a fertile ground. Others, including Martin S. Indyk, a former Clinton administration official and now a Brookings Institution scholar, are not quite so pessimistic. More from the Post‘s analysis:

In the December election, provinces will receive proportional representation so even a low turnout in Sunni provinces will still result in more Sunni Arabs being sent to the legislature. In the January elections for the interim parliament, Sunni representation was especially low because most Sunnis boycotted the elections while Kurds largely voted for a Kurdish coalition and Shiites backed a coalition of Shiite Islamist parties.

A last-minute deal last week on the constitution — allowing it to be amended in the next year, rather than eight years as originally anticipated — is also designed to encourage Sunni Arabs to become more involved and reject the insurgency. The constitution was largely drafted to reflect the interests of the Kurdish and Shiite groups that dominate the assembly, including carving out distinct ethnically based territories with greater control over oil wealth.

But experts said that, even so, Sunni Arabs will remain a minority in the unicameral body and in a country with 60 percent of the population adherents of the Shiite Muslim faith. Some said that Saturday’s result — demonstrating anew that Sunni Arab concerns will be outvoted — could actually do little to encourage the Sunnis.

“The fundamental problem is this is not a consensus constitution, and one part of the country has massively rejected it,” said Larry Diamond, senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a former adviser to the U.S.-led Iraqi provisional government. “This was not a joyful vote. It was a pragmatic vote to continue the process.”

Diamond credited the Bush administration, especially U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, with recognizing the problem and working hard to bring the Sunnis into the process. He said that the Sunnis realize they “shot themselves in the foot” by boycotting the January elections. Now, he said, the administration should begin intense informal mediation to narrow differences between ethnic groups before the election.

Martin S. Indyk, a former Clinton administration official who directs the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, said the administration’s scenario of greater Sunni participation is plausible. But he said it is also plausible the Sunnis will conclude that because they failed to block the constitution, the political process is stacked against them.

It should be noted that Sunni Arabs, who make up 15 to 20% of the population of Iraq, enjoyed a privileged status under the Saddam Hussein regime; to the Sunni elite, a fall from dominance may amount to “getting shafted.” There are also, of course, Sunni Arabs who are genuinely interested in a better future for Iraq. Despite the divisions, it seems to me that they do have a stake in the political process. Is this democracy as we know it? Of course not; the draft Iraqi Constitution enshrines Islam as the state religion and the foundation for Iraqi law (though, somewhat paradoxically, it also prohibits discrimination based on gender and religion), and the people generally voted as the clerics told them to vote. But it sure sounds like a positive first step.

Andrew Sullivan, hardly a drumbeater for the war of late, sees progress and concludes: “If the turnout reaches 65 percent, this will have been a real triumph for the forces of sanity and self-government.” Further to the left, Kevin Drum sounds guardedly optimistic as well (enough for a commenter to accuse him of training to be a “Fox News pundit”).

Let’s hope the cautious optimists are right.

About these ads

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

One response to “Iraq: A time for cautious optimism?

  1. Revenant

    As a result, Juan Cole tells The Washington Post that “this thing is an enormous fiasco”

    I don’t think that’s an accurate sentence, because it implies that Cole’s statement was motivated by the lack of Sunni support.

    Cole’s record strongly suggests that he would have uttered the above sentence regardless of how the voting went.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s