Shadow of the Past
Robert Mayer at Publius Pundit says argues that the key provision dividing ethnic groups over the Iraqi Constitution is federalism. Particularly contentious are the provisions which would preserve local militias at the expense of diminishing the national army.
There are two main issues regarding this. For one, the Iraqi government isn’t allowed to deploy the army to the region without express permission from the regional parliament ... the local militias affiliated with political parties in parliament that want to keep power by suppressing freedom and intimidating people. This happens to a large degree in the south, in places like Basra, where the religious Shiite and Iran-affiliated Badr militia has been known to harass people for doing things “unIslamic.”
The other problem is the distribution of resources, which is another reason why many people of different ethnic and sectarian backgrounds oppose the current federalism. ... all undeveloped resources will remain the sole propriety of the regions ... concerns that the federal government won’t be able to stop the resource-rich north and south from seceding, leaving them high and dry.
Mayer doesn't say how these issues should be resolved or even whether they can be resolved. But he was convinced that US domestic political considerations required that the Iraqi Constitutional process be perceived as moving forward. He had hoped that Sunnis and Shi'ites could agree to defer the decision over federalism until a new election could be held to constitute an assembly undistorted by a Sunni boycott. It wouldn't solve the problem, but off the evil hour when the hard choices had to be made. He quotes a Guardian article showing this was precisely the 'compromise' urged on the disputants by President Bush. "Following Bush’s call, Shiite officials submitted compromise proposals to the Sunnis, agreeing to delay decisions on federalism and the status of members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party until a new parliament is elected in December."
But in the event, the Sunnis have rejected the compromise and turned their efforts to stopping the draft Constitution's ratification. According to the Boston Globe.
In recent days, Shi'ites and Kurds made what they said was a final compromise offer. It retained the principle of federalism and enshrined the Kurds' long-held autonomy in the north, but deferred decisions about how and when new federal states could be formed to the next legislature. It also removed the ban on the Ba'ath Party while prohibiting the party's ''Saddamist" branch and symbols. The Sunnis submitted additional demands Saturday, and negotiations ended. ...
''We will not stay on the sideline this time, and I think we can make the constitution fail in Anbar, Salahuddin, Nineveh, and Diyala," said Jabouri, referring to four provinces where Sunnis are believed to be a majority.
Ali al-Dabbagh, a Shi'ite member of the constitutional committee, expressed concern that violence could result if Sunni attempts to block the document fail. ... If the Sunnis ''feel they are outside of Iraq and want to cause problems, that is up to them." Peter Galbraith, a former US diplomat and an adviser to the Kurds, said that if the referendum fails, the Kurds may push for full independence from Iraq. ''If this constitution is rejected, the next negotiations are going to be about the partition of the country," he said.
Each behind his Mason-Dixon Line. Of course it can hardly stop there. With a Shi'ite state in southern Iraq and an independent Kurdistan, fueled by vast oil reserves, the wrecker ball may keep on rolling. Syria and Turkey, with their large Kurdish minorities would soon have to reckon with the new Kurdish state. Iran may try to dominate southern Iraq, but a new Shi'ite state could just as easily become a rival as a client.
The referendum over the Iraqi constitution is, ironically enough, a long-delayed partial plebescite on the Sykes-Picot agreement, which created Iraq out of the shards of the Ottoman Empire, (follow this link to see historical maps of the region before Iraq was created in 1916 by a secret treaty between French and British diplomats.) and the subsequent partitions of the Middle East among European powers, which eventually involved Italy, Greece, France and Soviet Russia, leaving boundaries which remained unstable even beyond Yalta.
(Speculation alert) In this context it would be a mistake, I think, to judge success or failure of the Iraq constitution by the standard of whether that document prescribes some end condition preferred by the current State Department. The real test must be whether the peoples of Iraq can construct a polity of their choosing and whether it is one that leads to a stable and prosperous region. The fact, as Robert Mayer points out, that the principle issue dividing the proposed Constitution's proponents is federalism suggests that national identities have survived the Ottomans, the European Mandate System and the Ba'ath more strongly than many would care to admit. Although those who would have preferred to see the status quo ante preserved under Saddam and those who would have liked to see a unitary multiethnic successor state emerge may be disappointed in a devolution, the United States, alone among the great powers that have entered the region, has approached the problem of Mesopotamia by asking the people what they want. It may not be what we want. But that is beside the point.