Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sunnis Oppose Charter By Getting Involved

The Iraqi constitution passed by the slimmest of margins, coming very close to being defeated by the needed 2/3 majority in three or more provinces. In fact, two Sunni controlled provinces defeated the measure by far greater margins than 2/3, and a third province defeated the measure by 55%, falling just shy of the 67% needed to block passage. The strong Sunni opposition is being touted by critics as setting the stage for civil war or for increased violence in the months ahead. Yet, what we are really seeing is a ground swelling of support even in the Sunni regions, not for the constitution as written, but for the democratic process that gave it life. (Washington Post: The New Sunni Jihad: 'A Time for Politics').

Abu Theeb, an Iraqi guerrilla, described it thus, "It is a new jihad. There is a time for fighting, and a time for politics." Rather than urging a boycott of the elections or planning attacks against the polling places, Theeb went door-to-door in Sunni regions urging the people to register to vote and use the political process to have their voices heard.

This is the most encouraging news possible out of that region. That the vote totals in Sunni controlled provinces was so remarkably high is a major blow to outside insurgents, and al Qaeda specifically, since it signals a dramatic shift in the overall philosophy of the people in that region. For the first time, they participated in a democratic process rather than resort to roadside bombs and terror attacks to get their message across.

Elections for the new Iraqi parliament will forever change the face of Iraq. Sunni presence in that new parliament will be far higher than the current one, scarred by a Sunni boycott a year ago. While still a minority party, they will be a voice that cannot be ignored and they will have a far greater say in how Iraq - and their own provinces - are run.

Theeb's tribe has a harsh reputation for kidnappings and executions. Their reputation is so bad that election officials refused to staff a polling station there, and instead had to rely on a local sheik to serve as the election monitor. That democracy can be embraced in that region is the most encouraging news possible for the future of Iraq's fledgling government.

Democracy is not just a form of government, it is a mind-set; a way of life. It is not simply a case of going to the polls, it is an understanding that the will of the people expressed in those polls is the greatest political force on the planet. For the first time, Iraqis are starting to think with that mind-set. For the first time, we can see that the majority of Iraqis now understand what that process means. They understand that they do have a voice and that their voice matters. Now let's see what they do with it.


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