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(DV) Sanders: Valuing Form Over Substance in Iraq







Valuing Form Over Substance In Iraq
by Ken Sanders
August 6, 2005

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Based on the Bush administration's recent public statements, one could be forgiven for thinking that everything in Iraq will be fine so long as the August 15 deadline for drafting a constitution is met. In his speech to the nation on June 28, President Bush emphasized the importance of Iraqis staying on schedule with respect to drafting and voting on a constitution. During his "surprise" visit to Iraq on July 27, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was more blunt. "We don't want any delays," Rumsfeld warned Iraq's constitutional committee.

Iraq's constitutional process is so important to the Bush administration because it is one of two requirements that must be met before the U.S. can begin to bring its occupation of Iraq to an end. As explained by the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, continuing Iraq's constitutional process and improving Iraq's security forces are integral to the U.S. military's plan to pull out of Iraq in the summer of 2006. (Although it is becoming increasingly clear that Bush plans to pull out of Iraq in 2006, no matter what.)

While it is frequently helpful, even necessary, to have deadlines, it is generally unwise to emphasize the deadline over the quality of the work. Nevertheless, this is precisely what the Bush administration is doing in Iraq.

Let's assume that the Iraqis do meet the August 15 deadline and get a constitution written. The constitution must still be approved by Iraq's voters, but (thanks to the Bush administration's lack of foresight) may be vetoed by two thirds of voters in any three governorates. As it happens, there are three Sunni Arab governorates and three Kurdish governorates. Inasmuch as the insurgency in Iraq is a Sunni Arab insurgency at heart, do you think it's likely the Sunni Arabs will pass up the chance to veto Iraq's constitution? Neither do I.

The Kurds' approval of the constitution isn't exactly a lock either.

Notwithstanding the fact that the current president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, is a Kurd, Iraq's Kurdistan Region has little use for Iraq. The flag of Iraq, chosen by Saddam's Ba'ath Party to signify the union of Arab lands, does not fly anywhere in Kurdistan. At the inauguration of the Kurdistan National Assembly in July, the assemblymen swore loyalty to Kurdistan, not to Iraq. Kurdistan maintains a military consisting of around 50,000 peshmerga, which may not be deployed elsewhere in Iraq without the assembly's approval. By the same token, non-Kurdish military forces are prohibited from entering Kurdistan.

While Iraq's Kurds are mostly Sunni Muslims, they are secular and, having suffered at the hands of Sunni Arabs under Saddam's regime, hold no allegiance to Iraq's Sunni insurgency. Nonetheless, they don't feel particularly loyal to Iraq's Shiite Arabs either. In fact, as evidenced above, the Kurds don't really think of themselves as Iraqis and would be more than happy to secede from Iraq entirely. This would be bad news for the rest of Iraq since nearly all of the effective fighting units in Iraq's fledgling security forces are former Kurdish peshmerga. These units would not hesitate to return to and fight for Kurdistan, leaving greater Iraq virtually defenseless.

The secularism and independence of Iraq's Kurds pose an additional obstacle to the constitution's ratification. The Shiite majority's draft of the constitution would make Iraq a "federal Islamic republic." Under the Shiite draft, women's rights would be all but eliminated and Islamic law would govern matters such as inheritance, divorce, and child custody. The Shiite draft is also overtly anti-Semitic, denying Iraqi Jews equal rights and protections. The Kurds, in addition to being secular, have also made significant progress toward women's equality during their 14 years of autonomy, and bear no grudge against Iraq's Jews.

The Kurds also refuse to surrender Kirkuk to Arab Iraq. Rich in oil reserves, Kirkuk is also considered by the Kurds to be the heart of Kurdistan. Understandably, the Kurds resent having been expelled from Kirkuk by Saddam and replaced with Arabs, thereby increasing Kirkuk's importance to the Kurds. Any constitution that does not make Kirkuk part of Kurdistan won't stand a chance of surviving a Kurdish veto. Indeed, even if Kurdistan's leaders accept a Shiite-written constitution, the Kurdish governorates could (and likely would) veto it.

Curiously, the Bush administration never mentions the various reasons why the failure of Iraq's constitution is all but certain, regardless of whether a particular deadline is met. Either our hayseed of a president fails to appreciate the complexities at issue in Iraq or he simply hopes to keep the American public in the dark for as long as possible. While it's a close call, in light of this administration's abhorrence of truthfulness and openness, particularly regarding Iraq, the latter seems more likely.

Ken Sanders is a writer based in Tucson, Arizona. Visit his weblog at:

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