August 23, 2005

Iraq: Constitutional Issues

On August 22, the Iraqi committee charged with drafting a new constitution for the country presented its draft to the National Assembly. The draft, originally due on August 15, was accepted by the speaker of the assembly, Hajim Al-Hasani. Al-Hasani then made a surprise announcement that the expected vote would be delayed three days to give the assembly time to reach consensus between the three major groups - the Shi'as, Sunnis and the Kurds. The Sunnis have rejected the draft.

The Shi'as and the Kurds crafted the draft document, with some compromise between the two groups. The Sunnis claim they were not consulted in the final stages of the process. The major sticking point in the draft is the actual construct of the federal system. Other issues also remain, but the root of the problems revolve around the nature of the federal structure. It is that federal structure that will determine how much authority provinces and regions have, and more importantly, how Iraq's main source of income - oil revenue - will be managed.

The draft is in itself a compromise between the Kurds and the Shi'as. The two agreed to wording that Islam is to "a source" of the law, but not "the source," and that no laws passed an be in contravention of the tenets of Islam. The Shi'as agreed to this in return for the Kurds withdrawing their right to secede after eight years. The Kurds accepted the modified Islamic legal reference because they realize this is about as good as they are going to get, and anything less Islamic probably will not survive the referendum.

The Shi'as and Kurds have the required votes to pass the draft and trigger the October referendum. The two groups control 215 of the 275 seats - only a simple majority (138 votes) are required to call for the referendum. Doing so without at least attempting to reach some sort of consensus with the Sunnis could lead to a backlash. The Sunnis could throw their lot in with the insurgency, believing that they will get a better deal if the current interim government collapses. Alternatively, they could energize the Sunni population and hope to defeat the draft constitution in the referendum. A two thirds negative vote in three provinces defeats adoption of the constitution and requires another draft be crafted.

The next three days will be interesting. What attempts will be made to bring the Sunnis into the fold? What changes will be offered to address Sunni grievances? In the end, whether or not the Sunnis agree, the Shi'as and Kurds will vote to hold the referendum on the draft constitution on Thursday.

Of interest is the fact that there is no word in the Arabic language for compromise. They use "negotiate" and "consensus" - not quite the same. I doubt we will get to consensus.