A Showdown over Iraq’s Proposed Constitution
The constitution’s drafted, but the vote will be delayed.
What happenedIraq's Shiite Muslim majority and independence-minded Kurds submitted a draft constitution this week but delayed a vote beyond a Monday deadline, hoping to coax angry Sunni Muslims into dropping their objections. The proposal would reshape Iraq as a loose federal union with Islam as the official state religion, with a prohibition on any civil law contradicting Islamic teachings. Sunnis said that such a system would lead to the breakup of Iraq by letting Shiites form a massive autonomous region in the south, home to the country's largest oil fields. If the proposal is enacted, said Saleh Mutlak, a Sunni delegate, 'œthe streets will rise up.'
Shiites and Kurds sought to allay Sunni fears by promising them a share of the nation's oil wealth. But the structure of the new government is non-negotiable, said Humam Hamoudi, the Shiite chairman of the constitutional committee, and each of the country's three major ethnic and religious groups will be given a large measure of self-rule. 'œThere will be no central government like before,' Hamoudi said.
What the editorials saidAt last there is 'œreason for optimism' in Iraq, said the Chicago Tribune. The Kurds and the Shiites, who represent 80 percent of Iraq's population, have reached a 'œthreshold that doubters had said they could not possibly cross this quickly.' The 'œobstructionist Sunnis' must choose. They can reject the constitution 'œor they can reluctantly get on board, acknowledging that they don't want the future to leave without them.'
The Sunnis aren't the only ones who are disappointed, said The New York Times. This 'œbadly flawed' document 'œdoes little to advance the prospects for a unified and peaceful Iraq,' and threatens basic freedoms for Iraq's women, such as property rights and equality in marriage. The Bush administration has been trying to justify the war by claiming it will establish Iraq as a beacon of democracy in the Arab world. Now, Bush seems willing to settle for a budding Shiite theocracy. 'œAmericans continue dying in Iraq, but their mission creeps steadily downward.'
What the columnists saidYou call this a constitution? said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. It's a hopelessly 'œvague' document, riddled with contradictions. It has clauses that say, for example, that both Islamic law and democracy will be respected. 'œSo, which clause takes precedence?' And while it guarantees Sunnis a share of oil wealth extracted from 'œcurrent wells,' it cuts them out of reserves tapped in the future. Whether this fuzzy document is 'œrammed through' or is rejected, it is not at all clear 'œwhat kind of government, what kind of nation, this war and this process have wrought.'
Shiite leaders may be taking the country 'œinto the abyss,' said Spencer Ackerman in The New Republic Online. Sunnis will surely try to muster the votes to defeat the constitution at the polls. If they succeed, the government will fall and Iraq will be thrust into chaos. But if they fail, the insurgency will likely bloom into an open Sunni rebellion. 'œRepressing that rebellion will surely take Iraqand U.S. troopsto new levels of bloodshed with no clear endpoint.'
Only one endpoint is worth contemplating, said William Kristol in The Weekly Standard. Victory. Every step Iraq takes toward democracy and stability marks one more battle won on 'œthe central front in the war on terrorour war on terror.' It could take a few years yet for a new Iraqi government to stand up, and for a new Iraqi army to become strong enough to replace U.S. forces. If defeating the insurgency means that we have to 'œstay and fight side-by-side with the Iraqis,' so be it.