Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Iraqis ratify new Constitution

Iraqis have ratified a new constitution with 78 percent voting for it. The approval paves the way for parliamentary elections on December 15. The biggest support for the constitution came from Shiites and Kurds, who form nearly 80 percent of the population. Sunni Arabs rejected the constitution, in what can be more than a hiccup in the evolving process to put Iraq on the path of democracy. Since Sunni Arabs see the constitution as being largely shaped by Shiite and Kurdish interests, American officials have had to broker an agreement with them, allowing for constitutional amendments within the first four months of the new government. This has led many Sunni Arab leaders to call for participation in December's elections. It is likely then that the Ba'athist wing of the insurgency will not interfere in this process out of the belief that it will help to further its ends. This does not, however, mean that a decrease in violence is likely to follow the referendum. September was one of the most violent months in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, and this was a month in which Sunni Arabs were registering to vote and participate in the formation of the new government.

The likely shift in Ba'athist strategy will probably not be seen in numbers but in targets, as reported in the Asian Tribune. The report states, “Sunni Arab politicians will remain threatened by the Islamic militant wing of the insurgency, but may see some respite from the Ba'athists as long as they avoid the appearance of cooperation with the U.S. embassy.”

Another factor is the division in the Shiite ranks. Secular Shias prefer a strong central government, while some religious leaders seem inclined to prepare for the fragmentation of Iraq. The drop in turnout in some southern provinces can be explained by the general lack of trust in the central government. Here, religious leaders provide the security and services that the central government cannot, something the new government will find difficult to reverse. Sunnis fear such a state of affairs since Shias and Kurds are largely located in oil-rich areas.

The differences between secular and religious Shias were papered over during the drafting of the constitution by intentionally avoiding inscribing much about the functioning of the future government. The Shia negotiators, like their Kurdish counterparts, focused instead on gaining the best positioning for their sectarian group to dominate the future Iraqi government. This will likely delay the formation and functioning of the new government since many serious issues -- from the role of the Federal Supreme Court to the right of the federal government to impose taxes on the population directly -- have yet to be worked out.

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