Monday, November 07, 2005

Iraq's constitution is useful mile marker - not finish line

Posted 10/17/2005 9:25 PM

There is, for a change, some good news out of Iraq. Barring a last-minute surprise, the country, with more than a 60% voter turnout, has approved a constitution. (The final count is due in the next few days.) What's more, Sunnis turned out in large numbers ? more than 90% in at least one area - effectively ending their boycott of the political process.

But don't break open the champagne just yet.

There are allegations of fraud. And like almost every potentially "decisive" moment in the two-and-a-half years since the U.S. invasion - the fall of Baghdad, the "Mission Accomplished" celebration, the capture of Saddam Hussein, last January's elections - this is not a signal achievement that will allow U.S. troops to come home. Rather, it is an incremental change that might help prevent all-out civil war.

Americans like quick, clear-cut outcomes. But facing reality in Iraq is the key to understanding the nature of the challenge. In fact, the Bush administration is belatedly doing that, tempering its relentlessly upbeat assessments with more talk of a long haul.

Iraq is a two-track war: political and military. Politically, the referendum is positive. Most critical is that the Sunnis decided to vote. Though most cast "no" ballots, that does not necessarily mean they will now conclude that violence is the only answer.

The next big moment comes with elections for Iraq's first permanent government - the others were transitional - on Dec. 15. What's needed is for Sunni candidates to step forward and Sunnis to participate. That will give them representation - not to dominate as in Saddam's day, but with a say proportionate to their 20% numbers.

Sunnis would have had more sway over the new constitution if they had participated in January's elections. But, under U.S. pressure, the other groups - Shiites and Kurds - agreed to allow changes to address Sunni concerns, including that they might be persecuted and cut off from oil wealth. It's critical that the United States and others, such as the Sunni-friendly Arab League, continue that kind of pressure.

Militarily, the insurgency continues to overwhelm efforts to improve the lot of average Iraqis. Without security, nation-building can be only sporadic at best. If Sunnis become more politically involved and less aligned with the foreign terrorists who seek to make Iraq a foothold for Islamic extremism, the insurgency could diminish.

With support for the Iraq war plummeting in the USA, the temptation is to declare victory and start leaving. Just achieving some stability in Iraq will be difficult, let alone a representative government. But even that will take continued staying power.


Marcel Heersema
Iraqi Dinar Resources