Constitutional Delay

Iraq’s political process temporarily stalled due to wrangling over the content of the constitution. The requested one week delay in submitting the constitution to the Iraqi assembly by the August 15 deadly is chalked up to disagreement over the role of Islam, women’s rights, federalism and the disbursement of oil revenues. Robert Mayer of Publius Pundit provides an excellent look at the import of these disagreements and their political origins.

While the failure to meet the deadline is disappointing, there are some positives which can be taken from this experience.

1) The Iraqis followed the appropriate legal and political process to request an extension, as documented by Omar at Iraq the Model. Omar’s post is also interesting as it was based on the live feed form the assembly meeting broadcast live via Al-Iraqia TV. The decision to delay the negotiations was conducted in an orderly manner, just as the transfers of power from the Iraqi Governing Council to Allawi’s interim government, and Allawi’s transfer of power to the Jafari transitional government were conducted without violence or strife. The Iraqi democratic process, while fitful and imperfect, is working, and the Iraqi people can view this live.

2) As Robert Mayer outlines, the parties in power have a vested interest in seeking a compromise now, as the religious parties, Kurds and Shiites will have a reduced representation after the next election. (Mr. Mayer’s post should be read in its entirety.)

Why not leave it up to future parliaments to negotiate in order to avoid a “no” setback? Because come the parliamentary election in December, the gap will likely be closed by a large margin, meaning that religious parties will lose seats as the public has learned what they represent. And they don’t want it. Also, the Sunnis won’t be boycotting, which will give them a larger representation to fuel direct opposition to sectarian federalism.

This would also hold true if the current assembly was dissolved and a new election was called. There is a real incentive for the parties in power to cut the best deal possible while their power is assured.

3) The requested extension of one week indicates there is room for negotiations to succeed in such a short amount of time. The delay would have been more worrisome had negotiations been extended for months. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador to Iraq explains that some of the rhetoric about the disagreements on the constitutional committee is overblown.

In response to the apparent discrepancy between the optimism expressed by U.S. and Iraqi officials and the differences that some politicians insist remain, Khalilzad cautioned reporters not to “take seriously the posturing that goes on outside” negotiations.

He said, for example, that the Kurdish regional parliament’s controversial stated demand for the right of self-determination — widely considered a proxy for an eventual push for independence — had not been mentioned in meetings he attended and was “not on the table at the present time.” Many news reports have suggested that the Kurds’ demand had emerged as a main sticking point.

Some Shiites, who hold a majority in the country and its legislature, have said in recent days that they were prepared to push through a constitution over the objections of other blocs, particularly Sunni Muslim Arabs. But Khalilzad said that “an agreement that will exclude a major community, that is not in the cards.”

4) The delay was not brought on by any actions of the insurgency. In fact, the insurgency has had little influence on Iraq’s political process since the spring of 2004, when US forces withdrew from Fallujah after their initial assault to clear the city. As we have see with the recent red-on-red attacks in Ramadi, with Sunni insurgents driving off al Qaeda’s efforts to terrorize Shiite neighbors, the tolerance for extremism in the Sunni community is waning. Sunni clerics are encouraging their followers to join the political process, despite threats for Zarqawi. The same trend is seen with Iraq’s economy, which has moved forward despite the violence.

All of this is clearly an optimist’s take on the delay of the constitutional process. If real compromise cannot be reached by the August 22 deadline, confidence in the government’s ability to reach consensus will erode and the insurgency will have a window disrupt the process by convincing the Sunnis the Shiites and Kurds cannot be trusted, and direct violence towards the seams which divide Iraqis political parties.

The pessimists never believed the Iraqis could form a representative government earlier this spring, but were proven wrong when Sunni representatives were included into the Jafari government. That process also was long and fitful, but the Iraqis eventually reached consensus.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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5 Comments

  • Mixed Humor says:

    I don’t think the missed deadline is that big of a deal, though it could be at some point later if disagreements persisted. It’s more important that they get it right for all Iraqi’s. I think it’s important to keep the process in context and realize that (1) it’s not an easy process and (2) the end result will not be perfect. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld adequately provided some of that perspective and context when he said, “If you think of it, it took the United States from 1776 to 1789 to fashion a Constitution, and it wasn’t a perfect Constitution. It still had slavery. Women weren’t allowed to vote. There were things that we’ve perfected over the decades since.”

  • Bob says:

    The Sunnis know they have veto power over the adoption of the Constitution because they are the majority population in four provinces, and 15 of the 18 provinces must approve for it to take effect. Therefore they’re trying to use all the leverage they have (after they foolishly squandered much potential political capital by sitting out the first election) while they can. I think they’ll settle for eight cows and three goats eventually, and things will move forward. Not worried about the final outcome yet…

  • PeterArgus says:

    Bob:
    Rumsfield’s reference to our Constitution-making history is quite interesting; specifically the mention of the agreeement to disagree on slavery. On the one hand by kicking the issue down the road to other generations it continued the oppression of millions of black people and the sacrifice of the lives of 1/2 million people during an incredibly bloody Civil War. This was followed by a century of prejudice and apartheid-like rule over free blacks. On the other hand the framers of the US Constitution were faced with an issue for which there really was no suitable compromise. If the pro-abolition forces had insisted on freedom for all men regardless of race it would have been a deal breaker. And then where would we be?
    Bottom line: progress in human afairs is too often preceded by immeasurable and unavoidable tragedy. I would not expect the Iraqi (or more largely the Arab) experience to be any different.

  • PeterArgus says:

    Oops I was refering to Mixed Humor’s comment.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    Bob,
    15 out of 18 don’t have to approve the constitution, for approval, a simple majority vote will suffice. To disapprove the constitution 3 or more provinces must vote against by a 2/3rds majority. AlAnbar and Salahadin provinces have that majority, Ninewa would be a toss up. Diyala had a 34% turnout in the last election.

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