Iraqis desperately need security, electricity, water, food rations, health care, education, jobs. Instead they get a referendum on a constitution few of Iraq’s theoretical 15.7 million voters have debated and fewer still have even seen. Why? Because the occupying power said so. So forget about the real priorities needed to make life liveable. No constitution will be able to rule over a battlefield.
The US logic rules that the referendum is a crucial step in Iraq’s democratic transition. But as Iraq is for the moment a vassal regime, the occupiers basically redacted the draft “constitution”, which is based on the November 2003 “made in the USA” interim constitution known as the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL). TAL’s supervisor was L Paul Bremer, the former American proconsul in Baghdad.
The new supervisor is Zalmay Khalilzad, the White House’s former Afghan and current ambassador in Baghdad. During the redaction of the constitution, Khalilzad was described by Reuters as a “ubiquitous presence”. Just in case, Khalilzad and his team of American Embassy officials even volunteered their own constitution text to the Iraqis.
At a minimum, according to the Washington Post, they “helped type up the draft and translate changes from English to Arabic”. Khalilzad constantly tampered with the redaction. Then he used any trick in the “divide and rule” notebook to try to mollify the Shi’ite parties and “include” Sunnis in a kind of reconciled, centralized Iraq – to no avail. For this purpose, he used the services of the former US intelligence asset and former interim prime minister (for six months), Iyad Allawi.
Under a deal partly brokered by Khalilzad, Iraq’s ruling Shi’ites and Kurds have agreed to make changes to the text of the charter that voters will consider on Saturday. The accord calls for a panel that could propose new revisions next year.
Sunnis can reject the draft constitution by recording two-thirds majorities in three of Iraq’s 18 provinces. If the constitution is passed, elections will be held in December to elect a government. If it fails, the elections will install another interim administration to draft a new charter.
But whatever the outcome of the referendum, one result is certain: the birth of a sort of “Shi’iteistan” in central and southern Iraq, virtually autonomous, sitting on the bulk of Iraq’s fabulous oil wealth, and with privileged cultural/diplomatic ties with Tehran. This certainly was not what Khalilzad’s masters in Washington had dreamed of.
Iraq’s Shi’ites, on the historical brink of their “intellectual and political emancipation”, as the Shi’ite-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) put it, have clearly seen through Khalilzad’s meddling game.
Ali al-Adad, a member of the central committee of the SCIRI, described it in al-Hayat newspaper as “an attempt to reshuffle the cards, with the aim to embarrass Shi’ite negotiators under the pretext of reinforcing national unity”.
The creation of Shi’iteistan is non-negotiable, as for Shi’ites it means direct control over oil. Al-Adad added, “The adoption of a set of measures putting limitations on the creation of federal provinces … would make it difficult for the Shi’ites to set up a province in the center and south in the future.”
The SCIRI, already in power alongside the Dawa Party, is getting the constitution it wanted. From Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has already stated this is what he wanted too and urged the Shi’ite masses to vote “yes”.
But there are fissures even among Shi’ites. Sheikh Jawad al-Khalessi, the imam of the Kazimiya mosque in Baghdad, said that the constitution “answers to American objectives, but not the aspirations of Iraqis”. He personally called for a boycott, “but I know that George W Bush is already preparing his declaration on the success of the constitution”. Kalessi has a counter-proposal: a timetable for the end of the military occupation; UN supervision of Iraqi affairs; and UN-supervised elections.
What the whole constitutional show has achieved so far is to intensify Sunni Arab resistance. But Sunnis, as well as Shi’ites, also have nuanced takes on the matter. They may see through the “divide and rule” tactics inherent in any colonial project. But some, like the Iraq Islamic Party, finally decided to support – or at least not to boycott – the constitution vote because of the compromise on how the document can be amended.
For Sheikh Harith al-Dhari, secretary general of the powerful Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), support for this constitution could only come after a set of conditions were met: a timetable for the end of military occupation; a definition of terrorism; full recognition of the Iraqi resistance; and full reinstatement of the Iraqi army.
Last Saturday, 21 Sunni Arab organizations, including the AMS, rejected the constitution, saying it “bears in it the germs of Iraq’s division, the loss of its Arab identity and the plundering of its national wealth”.
Sheikh Zakaria Tamimi, leader of the Sunni High Committee for Dawa, Irshad and Fatwa (Call, Guidance and Religious Decree) also voted “no”. The majority of Sunni Arab organizations encouraged their supporters to register en masse – and that’s what they did. But the aim is to defeat the constitution by the two-thirds of “no” votes in the three predominantly Sunni Arab provinces.
Tampering with a ghost
Many people in Iraq have not even seen a copy of the draft constitution. And it went through so many published drafts no one really knows what still stands. The “official”, UN-printed final draft – 5 million copies of which started to be distributed less than two weeks before the vote – is already history. Not to mention that a mid-September UN internal confidential report suggests the constitution is a recipe for the breakup of Iraq.
So caught between resistance crossfire and yet one more US-imposed deadline, Iraqis are essentially voting for a ghost few have seen, and even if they have, it is not the genuine article: it will certainly be amended after a new parliament is elected on December 15. Moreover, whenever “lawmaker” Khalilzad is not happy, he will veto. Most of Iraq’s extremely intractable issues will have to be debated later.
To compound the mess, the UN had to convince the current Iraqi parliament to reverse its decision to allow a majority of “potential”, not actual, voters to decide the outcome of the referendum. Shi’ites and Kurds just wanted to make absolutely sure that Sunnis would not reject the constitution in three provinces – Anbar, Salah al-Din and Nineveh – of Iraq’s 18. At least the original rules are again prevailing, according to which Sunnis can veto the constitution by getting a two-thirds “no” vote in three provinces, even if it is approved by a national majority.
After three decades of no possibility of political expression under Saddam and two-and-a-half years of occupation, no wonder voters are confused. There’s the impression that if this ghost can be tampered with, even days before the vote, and so few have even seen the original, anything goes. Even more disturbing is that most Shi’ites and Sunnis will vote – “yes” or “no” – based not on a democratic exercise of their personal political beliefs, but on a fatwa from Sistani or a proclamation by the AMS.
Modern constitutions take years to be debated and written. The TAL ordered that Iraqis should form a government and write a constitution in six months. No wonder the rush job will be infinitely amended – not to mention the explosive risk of being implemented over the refusal of one of the country’s key communities, the Sunni Arabs. Any constitution is supposed to avoid this kind of problem, not provoke it.
The definitive recipe for the breakup of Iraq is Article 115. It states:
Every province or more has the right to establish a region based on a request for a referendum to be submitted in one of the following ways:
1) A request from one-third of the members in each of the provincial councils in the provinces that wish to establish a region.
2) A request from one-tenth of the voters in each of the provinces that wish to establish a region.
In practice, this means that any two provinces can decide to become a “region” – with different laws from other regions (that’s exactly what Kurds and Shi’ites want). Obviously, a region with its own laws, government and army is practically an independent country. The SCIRI, which controls nine of Iraq’s 18 provinces, is already operating in this manner.
Another key article disappeared from the final (ie, today’s) draft. It used to be Article 16, according to which:
1) It is forbidden for Iraq to be used as a base or corridor for foreign troops.
2) It is forbidden to have foreign military bases in Iraq.
3) The National Assembly can, when necessary, and with a majority of two thirds of its members, allow what is mentioned in 1 and 2 of this article.
The blatant contradiction speaks for itself. In the final draft, there’s no reference to the crucial issue of occupation troops or occupation military bases – which raises the question: is Iraq set up to be under permanent US military occupation?
And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for
Of Iraq’s 18 provinces, seven – Baghdad, Babil, Anbar, Salah al-Din, Nineveh, Kirkuk and Diyala – are in the center-north. Apart from the Sunni-majority Anbar, Salah al-Din and Nineveh, both Baghdad and Diyala are at least half Sunni. These are all important provinces, holding 13 million people, roughly half of Iraq’s population – and that includes the 6 million people living in the capital, Baghdad.
The resistance is very active in all of these provinces – and not only in four, as the Pentagon maintains. As things stand, with or without a constitution, the resistance and the guerrillas can continue to cause havoc in these seven provinces on a daily basis for a long time.
If the constitution is rejected this Saturday, nothing will change, as far as Iraqis are concerned. The Bremer-approved TAL remains in place. There will still be parliamentary elections in December, and a new interim parliament will have to start all over again. Shi’ites will be furious. But for them it’s not the end of the game. The new parliament will once again be dominated by Shi’ites and a modified version of this tampered constitution will resurface.
If the constitution is rejected, the different strands of the Sunni Arab resistance movement – as well as al-Qaeda in Iraq – will be encouraged, because, for them, although with nuances, this is the occupiers’ piece of paper. But even if the constitution is approved, the same thing will happen. Sunni Arabs will concentrate on the fact that they have been excluded, they are out of the game and have nothing left to lose. The resistance will become even bloodier. There couldn’t have been a more constitutional way to civil war.