Another Constitution Cliffhanger

Another Constitution Cliffhanger
Muqtada urges Followers to Register to Vote

Al-Zaman: Informed observers close to the negotiations on the constitution are saying that it is likely parliament will be asked for another one-week extension because some issues are still unresolved.

Al-Jazeera says that Adil Abdul Mahdi, the first vice president and a member of the United Iraqi alliance, has predicted that a draft of the constitution will be presented to parliament for a vote on Monday. Other observers were not so optimistic.

Al-Hayat: Ibrahim Jaafari is not ruling out dissolving parliament and calling new elections if the parties cannot agree on a text for the constitution. His spokesman said the step might be taken if there was no further postponement and no constitution was produced.

Jaafari is threatening the members of parliament with losing their jobs. Both the Kurdish and the religious Shiite contingent in parliament will shrink if there are new elections, since the Sunni vote will almost certainly be larger this time. Neither will therefore ever be in as a good a position as they are now to achieve their political goals through domination of the committee writing the constitution. Jaafari is using the threat to push them to compromise and come up with a final text.

The Sunnis on the constitution-drafting committee complained again about their marginalization by the Shiites and the Kurds, who they said were striking a “deal” without them. Salih al-Mutlak threatened a walk-out of the Sunni delegates if they were ignored on the issues of federalism and the distribution of oil profits. The Sunnis also objected to any special place being given to the Shiite religious authorities in Najaf. Some Sunnis were calling for a meaningful delay in submitting the constitution, and for an end to their marginalization, according to the LA Times.

The two main Kurdish parties, according to al-Hayat, have sent delegations to Arab countries seeking to open offices in their capitals that somewhat resemble embassies. If Iraq’s federalism becomes so loose that provinces have their own foreign policy, then it will be nothing more than the Commonwealth of Independent States set up by the former Soviet republics that became independent countries. CIS never amounted to much, and the member states are just behaving like countries with their own interests.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat: Muqtada al-Sadr on Sunday urged his followers to register to vote. Some 500 voting registration stations are opening. Registered voters will participate in a mid-October referendum on the Constitution, and in new parliamentary elections in December. Sahib al-Amiri, of the Sadrist Foundation of the Prayer Niche of the Martyr, said, “Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr asked his supporters to register their names in the rolls for participation in the referendum.” Al-Amiri said that the Sadr Movement is awaiting the text of the constitution. He said, “If the constitution is Islamic, we will participate in the referendum. If we judge that it is not, our response will be different.

I can only speculate on Muqtada’s motives. But it is possible that he will join efforts by Sunnis to torpedo the constitution if it does not seem Islamic enough to him, or if its federalism is too pronounced. If any three provinces reject it by a 2/3s majority, it will not be approved. Baghdad province contains the capital, which is divided between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs. Muqtada has substantial influence in Shiite East Baghdad. If he can convince his followers there to oppose the constitution, with the rejectionist Sunnis they could help reject it by 66 percent. Because Muqtada sat out the Jan. 30 elections, many Shiites in Baghdad voted for SCIRI of his rival, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Since Muqtada rejects federalism and rejects the political process now taking place in what he calls the “shadow of occupation,” a voter registration drive for the purpose of defeating the constitution would put him back in the political game. If all Sunni voters, and about a third of Shiite ones, vote no, that would be enough to vote down the constitution in Baghdad Province. This strategy would increase the likelihood of its rejection, since only two other rejectionist provinces would then be required.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat says that the 25 percent automatic representation of women in the parliament has been retained.

Al-Zaman Ansar al-Sunnah, the Sunni terrorist organization that has links to al-Qaeda, has bucked the movement of some Sunni guerrilla organizations to call for voter registration. In a statement on the internet, it demanded that Iraqis boycott the referendum.

The Guardian reveals that Haditha, a small farm town of 90,000 near the Euphrates, has become a stronghold of Ansar al-Sunna and Zarqawi’s Monotheism and Holy War. Apparently many small towns of western Anbar province are similar theocratic mini-states. Occasional sweeps by the Marines in the area do no more, it seems, than stir up dust in the air for a few days.

The Communist Party of Iraq is so alarmed at the direction of the country that it is seriously considering going back underground in some part and depending more on covert cells.

Dexter Filkins of the NYT reveals some of the details about which the constitution drafting committee has been arguing. One is whether clerics will sit on the Supreme Court (they do in Afghanistan). Apparently one plan would give them 4 of 9 seats. You can only imagine what US law would look like if 4 of the Supreme Court seats were set aside for Cardinals and televangelists. We’d all have 12 kids and they would be taught “intelligent design” in state schools.

A compromise is being suggested on the issue of whether provinces can confederate, according to Vice-Premier Ahmad Chalabi. He says it is being proposed that no more than 3 provinces can form a confederation together. This step would forestall the emergence of a huge Shiite confederation in the south, of 9 provinces. But Chalabi is typically dismissive of Sunni concerns. “How many votes have they got?” he sneered. Chalabi’s commitment to deep debaathification helped persuade the Americans to dissolve the Iraqi army and exclude most Sunnis from public life (since most of them had been Baath Party members at some times in their lives). This exclusion and marginalization has helped push the Sunni Arabs into a deadly guerrilla war against the Shiites, Kurds and Americans.

There may also be a compromise on the distribution of oil and gas income. Profits would be chared among provinces in accordance with their population.

As for the issue of personal status law, one compromise plan is being floated that would allow an Iraqi family to opt out of religious law and be judged by a code of civil law. Such a system would be a nightmare. Wouldn’t girls be at risk of being pushed by male relatives into registering marriages and other matters with a religious court? What if a Chaldean Catholic wife wants a divorce in civil court but her husband insists that they go to a Catholic canon law court (which would of course deny her a divorce).

From Filkins’ diction, it is clear that he double checked everything Chalabi alleged with other Iraqi politicians. The good news is that Chalabi is willing to talk, and reveals a lot of details. The bad news is that Chalabi is a notorious liar and you cannot believe anything he says. If I had been burned by a source as badly as the NYT was by Chalabi, I’d never talk to him again.

The Iraqi government is worried about Jordan becoming a neo-Baathist base for the guerrilla war against Baghdad. Bush administration figures are always complaining about Syria and Iran not doing enough to stop infiltration of foreign fighters, as a way of putting pressure on Bush foes in Damascus and Tehran. But the elected Iraqi government, which has all the same intelligence Rumsfeld does, never significantly criticizes Iran in this regard. Now we know what they are really worried about– Jordan! But Jordan is a close US ally and is not publicly chastised by BushCo.

In fact, the attack with Katyusha rockets on US vessels at the port of Aqaba in Jordan shows that the Iraqi war is spreading terrorism in the region. Arab diplomats are very worried about a whole new generation of “Iraqi Arabs”, fighters who honed their skills in the Iraq guerrilla war but then fan out to other Arab lands to plan and carry out terror operations. Bush’s Iraq misadventure, far from making Iraq a “fly trap” (and ask yourself if you would like some other country to turn your neighborhood into a fly trap for terrorists), is in danger of creating a new generation of highly trained and experienced terrorists, who will go on to attack US targets. US shipping in Aqaba is no longer safe.

Meanwhile, the guerrilla war marched on.

Reuters reports casualties in the ongoing war:

In BAGHDAD, guerrillas set up a booby-trapped car to blow up at a police checkpoint, killing 4 and wounding 7.

In DAWR near Tikrit, guerrillas killed a US soldier with a roadside bomb.

Late Saturday in SAMARRA, guerrillas killed a family of 5. The father had been a guard at a local pharmaceutical company.

Other individuals were killed, captured or wounded. See Reuters for the complete roundup.