Sunni Arabs Enraged at Law on 3-Province Veto
UN Begins Distributing Constitution
The Sunni Arabs of Iraq have for some time had a sneaking suspicion that the Shiites and the Kurds whom the Americans had installed in power in Iraq intended to marginalize and humiliate them. In case they were still in any doubt, the Shiite-dominated parliament drove the point home on Monday. It voted in a provision that the new constitution can only be defeated by a 2/3s majority of registered votes in three provinces, not a 2/3s majority of actual voters. The three-province veto was slipped into the interim constitution at the last moment by the Kurds in late February or early March of 2004, when everyone on the Interim Governing Council was exhausted and too tired to argue. (Larry Diamond tells the story in Squandered Victory). The Kurds wanted to ensure that the Shiites would not craft a constitution that was unacceptable to them (i.e. that forbade provincial confederations with special claims on resources and semi-autonomy of the sort formed by Irbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah under the no-fly zone, as “Kurdistan”).
The 3-province veto was never accepted by the religious Shiites on the IGC, and was explicitly rejected by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, on the grounds that it was undemocratic and held the majority hostage to a minority. Indeed, Sistani forbade the UN to endorse the TAL or interim Constitution in its resolutions on Iraq precisely because he did not want the veto internationally recognized. In the event, the Kurds got exactly the constitution they wanted (since Sistani dislikes loose federalism and wants a strong central government, he did not). So the Kurdistan Regional Assembly has already affirmed the new constitution, even though the federal parliament never took a vote on it.
So now that a document has emerged that the Kurds and Shiites are happy with, the Shiites have finally moved to defang the 3-province veto. The Kurds surely originally envisaged that it would be defeated if 2/3s of voters in 3 provinces rejected it in the referendum. The over-all turnout of voters in the Jan. 30, 2005 elections was about 58 percent. That rate of turn-out would have forestalled the 3-province veto if it was on the basis of registered voters, since 42 percent of voters did not participate. If anyone cares about the original intent of the legislators, this new law is clearly just wrong. But then again, the IGC was not an elected body, and the elected, sovereign parliament may feel it should not be bound by the deliberations of a committee appointed by Paul Bremer. Moreover, the 3-province veto was rejected by a substantial number of IGC members and by Sistani all along, so there is some question as to how solidly a part of the law it was.
In recent months, the Sunni Arabs came to feel that the new constitution deeply disadvantaged them, and it occured to them they they might be able to deploy the 3-province veto, themselves. They became galvanized at the thought that they might be able to derail the accursed constitution invented by the Kurdish warlords and Shiite ayatollahs to deprive them of their fair share of Iraq’s resources. This mobilization of Sunnis to vote in the referendum was even cited by Washington’s Iraq boosters as a positive sign! But as with all the hype of the boosters, their balloon has been shot down only a couple of weeks after they came up with their glib talking points. It was never very likely that the Sunnis could have derailed the constitution at the polls, though it was just possible if they could have gotten out enough votes in Ninevah (Mosul). Now, having watched their country taken over by foreigners, watched their women humiliated with foreign troops searching their underwear drawers, having watched their army dissolved, their relatives fired from government jobs in the tens of thousands, they have even been explicitly informed that they are not as good as the Kurds (who would never have put up with their own 3-province veto being subjected to a stealth veto if they had not liked the new constitution). (For a glimpse of what educated, middle class young Sunni Arab women think of the constitution, see Riverbend.
Sectarian violence already amounts to a low-intensity, unconventional civil war in Iraq. I’d say this entire constitutional process has ensured the intensification and continuation of the Sunni Arab guerrilla war for many years.
So now that the passage of the constitution is virtually a sure thing,
the United Nations has at last begun distributing copies of the new constitution in Iraq. I have been complaining that this distribution process has been delayed to the point of raising questions about the fairness of the October 15 referendum. It is true that the draft was published in Iraqi newspapers beginning in mid-September (though I’ve been nervous about that draft because there were so many drafts floating around and I couldn’t be sure it was the one finally read out from parliament and sent to the UN, and I preferred to see the UN printing.) Moreover, a lot of Iraqis don’t have access to those newspapers. I hear from people on the ground in villages in Iraq about locals who say they’ve never seen the draft.
BBC World Monitoring gives us this from al-Iraqiyah TV:
‘ Iraqi TV programmes discuss referendum
September 30, 2005
Iraqi TV stations, have dedicated special programmes, interviews and talk shows to the upcoming referendum on 15 October. The following report looks at three programmes broadcast on Al-Iraqiyah TV and Dubai-based Al-Fayha TV between 24 and 29 September:
Al-Iraqiyah devotes its weekly programme “The Iraqi podium” carried between 1420 and 1500 gmt on 25 September, to polling normal Iraqis on the Iraqi constitution over the telephone. Al-Iraqiyah presenter Adnan al-Ta’i puts forward the topic of discussion: “Do you approve of the draft constitution?” . . .
Some callers, however, raise concerns about the possibility of having multiple currencies according to the number of federal regions, in addition to the status of Islam in the constitution.
Similarly one caller expresses reservations towards the omission of “Article 44” in the constitution concerning international human rights agreements. The caller contends that the purpose of the omission was “political” and aimed at protecting the US forces from any possible “lawsuits” that might be filed against them by Iraqi citizens.
Shortly before the end of the episode, Al-Ta’i receives a call from a resident of Maysan, who says: “The residents of Maysan have not received copies of the draft constitution and do not understand anything related to it.” Al-Ta’i interrupts the caller by saying that the copies have not yet been distributed, but can be accessed through the internet or through Al-Sabah newspaper. Audio is then lost and the programme ends. ‘
Yeah, like that Marsh Arab in Maysan province had internet access.
Also from BBC World Monitoring, Shaikh Muhammad al-Ya`qubi, leader of the Fadila (Virtue) Party, an offshoot of the Sadr movement, says his followers are free to vote as they like on the constitution:
‘ HEADLINE: Iraqi Shi’i cleric denies recommending vote against constitution
SOURCE: Shi’i News Agency, Mount Lebanon, in Arabic 24 Sep 05
Text of report dated 24 September entitled “Al-Ya’qubi denies recommending Iraqis to vote against the constitution on referendum day; His eminence leaves the door open for the Iraqi people to vote for the constitution and stresses that to vote against the constitution is not part of his calculations” published by Lebanese-based Shi’i News Agency website
[Shi’i] Religious Authority Ayatollah Al-Shaykh Muhammad al-Ya’qubi, resident of Al-Najaf in Iraq, has denied recommending to the Iraqi people that they vote against the new Iraqi constitution on the day of the referendum, scheduled for 15 October.
His eminence added that he leaves the door open for the Iraqi people to vote for the constitution, stressing that voting against the constitution is not part of his calculations.
A number of Arab and foreign media outlets, including the [British] Daily Telegraph, had reported from Al-Najaf that Al-Ya’qubi recommended that the Iraqi people vote against the new Iraqi constitution, which will be put to referendum in mid October. His eminence categorically denied such reports, considering them as fabrications and lies. He added that these reports aim to fragment the unity of the Iraqi national rank and distort the positions of its religious and political leaders, who are known for their great concern for Iraq and its people, as well as for their keenness on the progress of the new political process. ‘
As for the weekend’s tiff between President Jalal Talabani (a Kurd) and Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari (a Shiite), in which Talabani called for Jaafari’s resignation, it has petered out for the moment. Al-Zaman says Talabani now holds that a change in the cabinet would not be advantageous to Iraq at the moment, and he is trying to wriggle out of having made the resignation call at all. Jaafari says he is too busy running the executive to pay any attention to Talabani (ouch!)
Sunni-Shiite tensions in the region are apparent in the testy exchange between Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and Iraqi Minister of the Interior Bayan Jabr. Al-Faisal said in New York recently that the US was unwittingly turning Iraq over to Iranian-influenced forces (i.e. the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq [SCIRI]). Jabr (SCIRI) angrily replied that Iraqis did not need lecturing on democracy from Saudi Arabia (an absolute monarchy), saying that Iraqis had invented civilization and needed no advice from some bedouin on camel back. (Galloway and Hitchens are a pale shadow compared to thesefireworks!). Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiar Zebari hastily intervened to deplore Jabr’s outburst as “inappropriate,” apologizing for it profusely. Zebari has to sit at conference tables with Saud al-Faisal, and knows that Iraq’s future depends on good relations with the kingdom. I have to say, though, that Saud al-Faisal did go too far when he said that the US and Saudi Arabia had “fought a war” against the Shiite uprising in spring, 1991, to forestall Iranian influence. That remark crossed a line as far as Iraqi Shiites were concerned. So it isn’t surprising that some sharp words were exchanged.
Jabr is a Turkmen Shiite and not an Arab at all. His remarks recalled ancient non-Arab taunts at the Arabs that they were desert dwelling lizard eaters. Several members of parliament called for Jabr to apologize or step down, according to al-Sharq al-Awsat, saying that he had insulted all Arabs, including those of Iraq. Jabr was in Jordan on Monday but was forced to cut short his visit and hurry back to Baghdad.
Sunni-Shiite (and Arab-non-Arab) relations in the Gulf are tense again, another spillover of Bush’s policies. And this issue could put gasoline in the US up to $20 a gallon if it got out of hand and led to large scale pipeline sabotage.
Makes you root for Zebari in all this.