Monday, August 15, 2005

Iraq Extension - Best Outcome Available

Not surprisingly, the Iraqi parliament was unable to reach an agreement on a draft constitution before the midnight deadline expired. Instead, they extended the deadline for an additional seven days to give all parties time to reach a compromise. (Guardian Unlimited: Iraq extends constitution deadline).

While the US expressed disappointment at the extension, the alternative would have been devastating to any hopes of a self-sufficient Iraq in the near future. Failing to reach agreement would have resulted in new elections for another interim government and the constitutional negotiations would have started from scratch.

What the extension does is demonstrate a willingness on the part of the Iraqis to continue the negotiations towards a compromise constitution. There are still two very contentious issues at large:
  • An autonomous Shiite state in the south of Iraq. With an autonomous Kurdish state in the north pretty much a given, the Shiites are pushing for their own autonomous state - something the Sunnis strongly oppose.
  • The role of Islam in the federal laws and constitution governing Iraq. This is something strongly supported by the Sunnis but just as strongly opposed by the Kurds and Sunnis.

The seven-day extension may be just what's needed for the groups to reach the obvious compromise. An autonomous Shiite state in the south in exchange for the removal of overt references to Islam in the constitution may give all sides what they truly need. The Shiites would be free to encompass Islam in the governing of their autonomous state, while the other two factions would have the secular government they desire.

A compromise satisfactory to the Sunnis is essential. For the constitution to survive long enough to reach the full ratification process in December, it cannot be rejected by 2/3 of three provinces. The Sunnis control four provinces and therefore have the ability to scuttle the constitution in the October vote.

Despite the apparent setback of today's extension announcement, there really is more cause for hope than one might expect. The three sides are closer to an agreement than ever thought possible. Even more astonishing, Sunni troops took up arms yesterday to protect Shiite settlers - something that has never happened before and signaled a growing weariness even among the Sunnis for the continued insurgency. Perhaps there is some hope for at least a temporary peace after all.

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4 comments :

Alan Fraser said...

The Pakistan solution. How novel. And how many times has Pakistan been at war with India since it was partitioned. One loses count, doesn't one.

Kannafoot said...

Not quite. You see, everything would have been fine with the Pakistan / India solution were it not for Kashmire. I'm assuming you have the Sunnis starring in that role. The difference is that Kashmire - a Muslim territory - chose to remain a part of India. That has been the bone of contention and the source of the three wars between Pakistan and India.

No, the danger in the suggested compromise isn't the Sunnis. The danger is the Kurds. There's a fairly sizable Kurdish population in both Syria and Turkey. The danger is in the desire of the Kurds to form an independent Kurdistan - something that could drag Syria and Turkey into the war.

The proposed compromise isn't perfect. No compromise is. But given the alternatives, I think it's the best possible option in the Iraq situation.

Alan Fraser said...

The oil money is the south so you'll have a have / have not situation which I'm sure will engender peaceful relations for generations to come. If the South is partitioned then the Kurds will probably want to partition as well. They certainly have no reason to love Iraq after the way they've been treated.

Kannafoot said...

A federated and autonomous Kurdish state is pretty much a given. They've had that for over a decade and they're not giving that up.

Yes, the oil is to the south, and that's what has the Sunnis worried. They're obviously concerned about being stuck between two autonomous states and not having any mineral resources themselves with which to muster any clout at all. What other option do they have, though? The Sunnis have no bargaining chips. The only thing they can do is prevent a constitution from being signed, but other than that they have no bargaining power. In the end, they will either have to accept the federation option or side with one of the other groups. What choices do they really have?