As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Shiite Bait and Switch

In the tense days leading up to the vote on Iraq's Constitution, the Shiites and Sunnis struck a "deal" wherein the two sides agreed to leave open the option to amend the Constitution in the future if the Sunnis would just vote for it now.

I wrote about this at the time:

So let me get this straight.  The deal on the Constitution is that they'll write another Constitution next year?

And that won't work, so they'll write ANOTHER Constitution that'll get voted on in '07, and then there's the 2008 Constitution, and the '09, and the 2010 (The Year We Make Constitution)...

This does nothing but prolong the inevitable; autonomous areas in the North and South, and a restive Sunni population in the middle.  Do you think for a second that, once given these powers, Shiites and Kurds will vote to have them TAKEN AWAY?  I don't think so...

These changes only suggest that there may be a way in the future to move Iraq away from a Shiite-dominated Islamic republic.  That doesn't pass the smell test.  These "promises" sound empty.  The Shiites could bottle changes up in committee, then plead that "we went through the democratic process and the changes were rejected."

Well, the Shiites don't even seem to be waiting for committee. They're essentially saying to the Sunnis, "we won, you lost, now shut up and get used to it!"

The leader of Iraq's most powerful party indicated today that his group would block substantive changes to the country's new constitution.

Last fall, as Sunni Arabs protested vehemently against the proposed constitution, the Shiite and Kurd leaders who dominated its drafting promised that a panel would be created which could recommend amendments during the four months following the formation of a new government.

Amendments would need a majority in Parliament to win approval, and the Sunni parties are certain to hold far fewer seats than that; moreover, the Shiites and Kurds did not bind themselves to lend their support to any specific change.

Still, the promise of a chance to seek changes was crucial in gaining support for the constitution from the largest Sunni party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, just before the October referendum.

But Abdul Azziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, the most influential group in the ruling Shiite coalition, appeared to pull back from any suggestion of significant change.

"The first principle is not to change the essence of the constitution," he said, during a speech in honor of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, news agencies reported. "The constitution was endorsed by the Iraqi people."

Mr. Hakim appeared to rule out in particular any change in the constitution's provisions allowing the creation of strong regional provinces, a point that had angered many Sunnis.

"It is our responsibility to form Baghdad provinces and southern Iraq provinces," Mr. Hakim said, news agencies reported.

Hakim alos blamed the US for inciting the insurgency, and lumped the Sunnis in with that effort.

This was the whole basis for the Constitution (narrowly) passing; some Sunnis would agree to support it if they were allowed to make changes once they had fuller representation. Now, the Sunnis are going to see that they were utterly used, the Shiites have shown themselves unwilling to compromise in any way, and the Kurds don't care as long as they get Kirkuk.

This is the true "turn the corner" moment in Iraq. It's going to get real real bad from here. Because the Sunnis, already disheartened by losing the Constitutional ratification, already frustrated by alleged fraud in the parliamentary elections, now see the ruling party pull back their promises to compromise. There can be no way to achieve their goals electorally, they must be thinking. There can be no way we can trust the Shiites, they must be thinking. Armed struggle must be the only way to get what we want, they must be thinking. And for their part, the Shiites aren't exactly disabusing them of that notion.

Everyone thinks Iraq is already in civil war, but as Juan Cole informs us, it can get a hell of a lot worse:

During the course of the guerrilla war, the daily number of dead has fluctuated, between about 20 and about 60. But in a real civil war, it could easily be 10 times that. Some estimates of the number of Afghans killed during their long set of civil wars put the number at 2.5 million, along with 5 million displaced abroad and more millions displaced internally. Iraq is Malibu Beach compared to Afghanistan in its darkest hours. The US has a responsibility to get out of Iraq responsibly and to not allow it to fall into that kind of genocidal civil conflict.

This kind of reneging on promises is likely to head us right into that genocidal direction.

(Hat tip: this Kos diary.)