Iraq election (three days to go)
SLevinson at law.utexas.edu
Tue Oct 11 20:16:07 PDT 2005
>From tomorrow's NYTImes (Comments following story)
October 12, 2005
Leaders in Iraq Agree to Change in Constitution
By ROBERT F. WORTH
s/iraq/index.html?inline=nyt-geo> , Oct. 11 - Iraqi political leaders
said they had agreed to an important last-minute change in the draft
constitution on Tuesday evening in exchange for a promise by some
prominent Sunni Arab leaders to give public support to the document in
the nationwide referendum on Saturday.
The change would create a panel in the next parliament with the power to
propose broad new revisions to the constitution. In effect, the change
could give the Sunnis - who were largely shut out of the
constitution-writing process - a new chance to help redraft the document
after elections in December.
The agreement was a major victory for American officials, who had spent
weeks urging Iraq's Shiite and Kurdish leaders to make changes that
could soften Sunni opposition to the charter and forge a broader
consensus. The Americans had voiced fears that if the constitution
passed over strong Sunni opposition, more would turn toward violence.
The breakthrough came as insurgents continued their intensified campaign
to create chaos, carrying out at least a dozen attacks across Iraq that
left at least 42 people dead and dozens wounded. The biggest attack, a
bombing in Tal Afar, killed at least 27.
The constitutional change would need to be approved by the National
Assembly, which will convene on Wednesday for that purpose. That is
likely to be a formality, as the lawmakers generally follow their party
"This will give a new chance to the people who were not present in the
writing of the constitution," said Alaa Makky, a senior member of the
Iraqi Islamic Party, Iraq's best-known Sunni political group, which had
until now been urging its members to vote against the document. "We
think this may be the beginning of a new era, and we think it is a great
The Iraqi Islamic Party was the only Sunni Arab group involved in the
talks, which also included the leaders of Iraq's Shiite and Kurdish
political alliances and the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad. Mr.
Makky said the party had acted in coordination with another major Sunni
group, the Conference of the People of Iraq, which also agreed to change
its stance and support the constitution.
It was too early to tell whether a public endorsement of the
constitution by those two groups would translate into a much broader
acceptance among Sunni Arabs. With only three full days left before the
referendum, it will be difficult for Sunni groups to convey a new
message to their supporters, especially after Thursday, when security
measures restricting travel will be imposed.
But even a last-minute endorsement by prominent Sunni Arabs could alter
the politics surrounding the constitution. The new support is likely to
undercut the widespread notion that the constitution was being forced on
an almost uniformly hostile Sunni Arab population.
"I think it is an important change, to be honest," said Saleh Mutlak, a
Sunni Arab member of the constitutional committee who had strongly
opposed the draft and who expressed some resentment at not having been
included in the final negotiations.
The change would also give Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted elections
in January, a significant new motive for participating in politics. The
more parliament seats they win in the December elections, the better
chance they would have of changing the constitutional provisions they
oppose, like allowing for the creation of semiautonomous regions within
The constitutional panel would have four months after its creation to
propose changes to the document, Mr. Makky said. Those proposed changes
would then be voted on by the full assembly, which would have to approve
them by a two-thirds majority. The changes would then have to be
approved in another popular referendum.
It was unclear on Tuesday how the panel would be selected and how many
members it would have. Those details were expected to be worked out in
the next few days.
Along with the new constitutional panel, the Iraqi leaders agreed to
some smaller changes to the charter, several lawmakers said. At least
two of them represented concessions to Sunni demands. One is a
moderation of the so-called de-Baathfication process to root out former
members of Saddam Hussein's
sein/index.html?inline=nyt-per> Baath Party from public office, and the
other is a clause providing firmer guarantees of Iraq's unity.
It was not clear what led to the breakthrough in the talks, but some
Shiite lawmakers seemed supportive of the agreement. "Anything that
brings our views closer and relieves this polarization will be helpful,"
said Ali Dabagh, a member of the Shiite alliance that holds a majority
of seats in the National Assembly.
Query: 1) The temporary law under which the constitution-drafting was
to be carried out suggested, among other things, that there would be
significant opportunity for public discussion of the constitution. Does
anyone know (or even care) how many Iraqis have even seen a draft of the
constitution on which they will ostensibly be voting on the 15th. Is
this like the House or Senate that votes on bills that no one except the
majority leader has even looked at? (Again, do we care if this is the
case, since we apparently don't care that our so-called representative
government in DC has turned into a farce with regard to such
2) If you are a Sunni imbued with a "hermeneutic of suspicion," why in
the world would you take this compromise seriously? Big deal: A panel
has the authority to propose changes. But then it will take a 2/3 vote
of an undoubtedly Shia-Kurd-dominated assembly to send them on to yet
another popular referendum. Perhaps George W. Bush will appoint a
bi-partisan commission to suggest persons to appoint to the Supreme
Court, though he will first reserve the right to appoint whomever he
wishes and secondly point out that any choice will have to get the
support of, say, 90% of the Republicans in the Senate. Would anyone
take that seriously?
3) If the operative assumption is that the present constitution, to be
voted on this Saturday, is "good for this trip only" since it will be
open to wide-scale revision, then why the rush to complete this draft
and have it voted on in a quite farcical referendum. What lesson are we
supposed to learn from this process? No doubt the White House will
compare this to Philadelphia and the Federalist deal to propose a Bill
of Rights that they initially wished to have no part of. But, of
course, the Bill of Rights was of no operative importance in American
constitutional life until the 20th century.
4) Perhaps this will all work out for the best and Iraqi democracy will
begin taking root and the troops can come home in time for the 2006
elections so that George W. Bush can declare a famous victory in which
no one died (or was permanently maimed or left psychologically
destroyed) in vain. But how many of you would put money on this
proposition? (I say this as someone who has no real idea what a sound
policy would be in Iraq right now, since I do think that a premature
withdrawal would simply bring on a bloodbath of a civil war. But
perhaps someone might have thought about this before invading the
country in the first place--or, like Senator Kerry, voting to authorize
such an invasion.)
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