While talks over the Iraqi constitution continue in Baghdad, the results so far can only be worrisome for those who hoped the process would help consolidate a new democratic political order and alleviate the Sunni insurgency.
The completion of a constitution in the coming days would keep Iraq on track toward holding elections and forming a permanent government by early next year, a timetable the Bush administration has made an overriding priority. Yet both the means adopted to complete the draft and some of the language reported to be in the document risk exacerbating the divide between Iraq's majority Shiite and Kurd communities and the minority Sunnis, thereby adding fuel to the insurgency. Iraqis and U.S. officials need to make good use of the brief time between now and the scheduled meeting of the National Assembly tomorrow if that outcome is to be avoided.
After missing the first deadline for completing the constitution, Shiite and Kurd leaders submitted a draft to the National Assembly Monday only after excluding Sunnis from their negotiations. Many Shiite leaders appear to favor ratifying that draft over Sunni objections. In part the sentiment is understandable: The mostly unelected Sunni representatives, who tacitly and sometimes explicitly seek to use the insurgency as leverage, have been uncompromising. They demand a powerful central government that would be incompatible with a democratic and pluralistic Iraq; some no doubt still dream of restoring Sunni dictatorship. Still, the stabilization of Iraq requires Shiite, Kurd and Sunni leaders to compromise on such crucial questions as the degree of federalization and sharing of oil revenue. By forcing through their own solutions, the Shiites and Kurds will merely forestall any compromise, while giving Sunnis a more tangible cause for rebellion than mere nostalgia for Saddam Hussein, Washington Post reports.
But, from the U.S. perspective particularly, the document has a potentially fatal weakness. It does less to cement Iraq into one cohesive nation than to expose its fault lines, creating the possibility that Iraq will splinter into three essentially autonomous regions, at least one of which could be hostile to the United States and a haven for terrorists, USA Today says.
Saddam Hussein and other Sunnis ruled Iraq, often brutally, for decades. Today, the Sunnis, in collaboration with foreign fighters, make up the backbone of the insurgency. Bringing the Sunnis into the political process is a must if the insurgency is to be broken.
So far, the Sunnis have made one tactical mistake after another. First, most didn't vote in January's elections, so they don't have many seats in the parliament. Second, they didn't participate fully in the constitution-drafting committee. Now, they're threatening to reject the present draft and talking of a wider uprising.
The key, as President Bush pointed out Tuesday, is for the Sunnis to choose between violence and working to create a democracy. Whether that happens may be the most realistic measure of hope for Iraq to become a stable, unified and representative country.
The Shiites, who make up 60% of Iraq's population, and the Kurds, who make up 20%, have to put the interests of the country as a whole above their desire for revenge. But they've also left themselves room to go their own way — failing to ban separate regional militias, for instance. In the worst case, that could leave a Shiite region allied with Iran and a Sunni region that might be home to al-Qaeda terrorists, as it is today.