Sunni Counter Proposals Appear To Fail

Sunni Counter-Proposals Appear to Fail
Parliamentary Vote on Constitution Sunday?

Rory Carroll & colleagues at the Guardian reveal that behind the rosy talk, British and American officials are asking “how do you know when you are on the brink of civil war?” and privately comparing the unfolding catastrophe in Iraq to the Lebanese Civil War.

Al-Hayat: Sunni Arab politicians presented their objections to the submitted draft of the constitution on Saturday, as momentum grew among Shiites and Kurds to simply ram it through parliament over the objections of the Sunnis. The Sunni Arabs asked for a rejection of federalism for any group but the Kurds. The revised draft allows parliament to legislate on the issue of provincial confederations, by a simple majority. Since the Shiites probably can keep a simple majority in parliament, this provision just gives them freedom to do as they please.

The Sunni Arabs wanted the issue to require a 2/3s vote. The Sunni Arabs also asked that Islam be the source of law rather than only “a fundamental” source of law. Not all Sunni Arabs involved in the negotiations take this position (Adnan Pachachi does not, e.g.), but apparently a majority of the 17 members of the constitution drafting committee has. It was the Kurds and the Americans who forced the change to Islam being “a fundamental” source for Iraqi law, and the religious Shiite parties only reluctantly gave in. The Kurds and the Americans would not back down on this one.

The Sunni Arabs want an affirmation in the constitution that Iraq is “part of both the Arab and Muslim worlds.” At the moment, the constitution says that Iraq is part of the Islamic world, but that only Iraq’s Arab community is part of the Arab world. (The Kurds, some 20 percent of the population, are not native Arabic-speakers, but rather speak an Indo-European language).

The Sunni Arabs also object to Kurdish being one of two official languages (including Arabic) for all of Iraq. They want the official status of Kurdish to be recognized only in the Kurdistan confederacy.

Several Sunni Arab cabinet ministers weighed in Saturday with similar demands.

Speaker of the Parliament Hajim al-Hasani, himself a Sunni, said that the draft constitution would be voted on by parliament on Sunday whether the Sunni Arabs accepted it or not. The Sunnis only have 17 seats in the 275-member parliament, despite being up to a fifth of the population of Iraq, and so in an up and down vote they can be steam-rollered by the Shiites and the Kurds. But the bad feelings engendered by this way of proceeding will probably deepen and prolong the guerrilla war, waged largely by Sunni Arabs.

Abbas al-Bayati, a Shiite member of the constitution drafting committee, said Saturday that the US and British ambassadors had put pressure on the (Shiite) United Iraqi Alliance list tochange its position on several pending issues, in order to accommodate Sunni demands.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry arrested Shaikh Ahmad Salman, a member of the Association for Muslim Scholars, on Saturday. The AMS is among the more popular and influential Sunni Arab parties, but it is suspected of links to the guerrilla movement and several of its members have been arrested, while others have been assassinated. The Ministry of the Interior is controlled by the Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which many Sunni Arabs see as a proxy for Iranian influence in Iraq.

Usamah Abdul Aziz (al-Najafi), the Minister of Industry, announced a plan for privatizing Iraq’s state-owned industries on Saturday. Is this really the right time to be concentrating on this issue?

The US military released a thousand prisoners from Abu Ghuraib on Saturday, apparently as a good faith gesture to encourage the Sunni Arab politicians to compromise on the issue of the constitution.

Craig Smith of the New York Times confirms what had been obvious to close observers– that the US is denying the new Iraqi army heavy arms for fear they might be turned eventually on US forces. The way the Iraqi army used to keep order in the fractious country was with tanks and helicopter gunships. But the new Iraqi army just has Toyota trucks and Kalashnikov machine guns (and then is blamed by the Americans for not fighting very well!) The sooner we get US ground troops out of Iraq, the better; and then there will be no reason to stop the Iraqi army from ordering proper tanks.