Constitution Likely Not Achieved 30

Constitution likely Not Achieved
30 More Bodies of Police Found in Baghdad

The prospect that Iraqi politicians might make some last-minute deal on key issues in the constitution receded Sunday evening.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), declined to come to a planned evening meeting with the Kurdish leadership to be brokered by Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari of the Dawa Party. Dawa and SCIRI are both religious Shiite parties. But Dawa is more lay in its leadership and appears willing to forego a Shiite confederation of provinces in the south.

There had earlier been reports that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani also disliked the idea of a confederation, which would seriously weaken the central government and might pave the way for a break-up of the country. Sistani believes the Shiites can regularly capture the central government, with a majority in parliament and the ability to choose the prime minister, so he cannot see what benefit the Shiites would get from provincial confederation. Jaafari and Dawa may be reflecting Sistani’s thinking on this matter, though he later backed off from intervening directly on the issue, believing that the elected parliamentary representatives of the people are the ones who should make these decisions.

The major advocates of a loose federalism plus provincial confederation are SCIRI and its paramilitary offshoot, the Badr Organization. Both of them ran extremely well in the provincial elections and apparently expect to continue to be able virtually to sweep such elections. So not only would loose federalism plus the ability of the southern provinces to confederate benefit the Shiites in general from their point of view, but it would much strengthen the power of SCIRI, which cannot hope for a parliamentary majority in the federal legislature. That is, the logic of the political party has now emerged in these disputes–it is not just a handful of top politicians bargaining among themselves. There are 8 or 9 SCIRI governors with their own agendas, who are pressuring their party leader, al-Hakim. SCIRI is also close to Iran, and it is not impossible that Tehran is encouraging the idea of a Shiite confederation.

Finally, petro-politics is important. The Kurds have a 3-province confederation, which even has its own legislature (maybe an analogy to Scotland?), and have demanded that it be expanded (adding parts of 3 other provinces); and also that some proportion of petroleum receipts from Kirkuk in the north stay in the Kurdish confederation.

The Shiite south has a bigger and younger field, the Rumaila oil field, and a Shiite confederation of provinces would benefit if they could keep a proportion of the petroleum receipts locally rather than having them go to Baghdad. Since the petroleum and its profits are owned by the government, in practice this system could directly transfer to SCIRI leaders as much as $4-$5 billion dollars a year even now, with the prospect of it being more in the future.

The Sunni Arabs at the moment have no petroleum fields, so they do not like this system and are making a stand against it.

The Shiites, and not just al-Hakim, generally also want a provision in the constitution that no statute may be passed by the federal legislature that is contrary to Islamic law (shariah). This wording could be a trojan horse for making Iraq into an Islamic republic. The Kurds reject this provision absolutely, and al-Hakim was supposed to meet with them to iron the dispute out. I take it he did not believe that the Kurdish leadership can be negotiated with about this issue (and they are not wild about a Shiite confederation either). Al-Hakim also presumably believes that time is on his side and it is better to make a stand now rather than to give up key demands in hopes of retrieving them later.

As Shiite cleric Jalal al-Din Saghir pointed out, the Shiite majority in parliament could theoretically just vote in a constitution. But it would need to be accepted by 16 of Iraq’s original 18 provinces. The Kurds had managed to slip a provision into the interim constitution (never accepted by the religious Shiites) saying that if any 3 provinces rejected the constitution by a 2/3s vote, it would fail. Both the Kurds and the Sunni Arabs can muster such a rejection. In the meantime, the interim constitution would continue in force (which would be a victory for the Kurds and a defeat for the Shiite religious parties that won the January 30 elections). The religious Shiites might be tempted to repeal this provision in parliament, but that would certainly provoke the Kurds to withdraw from the government and might split up the country.

The Sunni Arabs are still rejecting loose federalism (or any sort of federalism) as a basis for the state.

The Washington Post gives this quote:

‘ We hope the other blocs put into consideration the future of Iraq and the safety of the country,” said Haseeb Arif Obaidi, a Sunni on the constitution committee. “Bottom line, we will not accept or sign the constitution if we don’t agree on it.” ‘

It should be explained that in most of the Middle East, the prime minister or president actually appoints the provincial governors, who are not elected by the people. So to go to a system where not only are the governors elected, but they can form political and economic blocs with one another (a system of confederation) so as to bargain with the central state is a real revolution. Most Western observers have seemed to me insufficiently aware of how different this proposed system (which already functions with regard to 3 Kurdish provinces in the north) is from that in the rest of the Arab world. In Egypt, for instance, there was a debate in parliament about 2 years ago about allowing the people to elect provincial governors, but President Hosni Mubarak rejected the idea. He likes appointing them. Not only is this centralized political culture strong among Sunni Arabs, but the Sunnis will de facto see their share of petroleum revenues decline if the Kurdish and Shiite (“Kurdistan” and “Sumer”) confederations keep back a proportion of receipts. Sunnis could confederate, but their three or four provinces would be dirt poor.

There is talk of parliament amending the interim constitution to allow another two weeks to finish the final constitution. But it is unclear that two weeks would change anything.

The approval of a constitution would anyway not have actually halted the guerrilla war, because the guerrillas reject what they see as a colonially imposed government, and the Bush administration’s “tipping points” have never actually tipped. But now even the facade of progress is peeling away. Thirty more bodies of police or police recruits were found in Baghdad Sunday; most of these are probably Shiites killed by Sunni Arab guerillas in an unconventional civil war already begun.

So this is the time Bush chooses, as he is mired in an intractable conflict in Iraq in which its Shiites are moving close to Iran, to intimate that he could take military action against Iran over its nuclear program — in an interview broadcast from Israel (which rejected the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and made hundreds of atomic bombs with British help). The Rove theory of looking active and carrying the fight to the enemy isn’t working as well in the Middle East as it did against poor John Kerry.

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