A DARK CLOUD IN IRAQ

How not to be deeply troubled by what has just happened in Iraq? Perhaps the critical issue in finding a half-way decent outcome is to engage the alienated Sunnis who don’t want to throw their lot in with the insurgency. A critical element of that is political: getting them to sign up to a Constitution in which they lose considerable power. There have been encouraging reports of heavy Sunni registration for the vote in a couple of weeks. I was then worried that we could get high Sunni turn-out, but ratification of the Constitution nonetheless – because the Sunnis needed a two-thirds majority in three provinces to stop it. Their disillusionment might worsen the insurgency. But now even the tiniest chance that the Sunnis might succeed and feel empowered by democracy could be scuppered. Kurdish and Shiite leaders have apparently quietly introduced wording that gives different meanings to “voters” in two separate sections of the proposed constitution. The result? Even if the Sunnis achieve record turnout in their three most reliable provinces, their votes won’t make a difference. It would be hard to find a better way to discredit democracy, accelerate civil war or galvanize the insurgency. Zalmay Khalilzad is doing his best to avert what looks like a looming disaster, but without much luck so far. Juan Cole, naturally, predicts disaster – but his analysis seems pretty solid to me. Is there a more optimistic take on this development? I hope we are not witnessing the moment when a civil war in Iraq became inevitable.

SUNNI CYNICISM: Meanwhile, Sunni blogger, Riverbend, is trying to make sense of the document and illustrates, as Cole points out, the deep Sunni sense that the fix is in:

I frowned and tried to hand [my neighbor] the Arabic version [of the new Constitution]. “But you should read it. READ IT. Look – I even highlighted the good partsx85 the yellow is about Islam and the pink is about federalism and here in green- thatx92s the stuff I didnx92t really understand.” She looked at it suspiciously and then took it from me.

I watched as she split the pile of 20 papers in two – she began sweeping the top edge of the wall with one pile, and using the other pile like a dustpan, she started to gather the wilted, drying tooki [tree fruit] scattered on the wall. “I don’t have time or patience to read it. We’re not getting water- the electricity has been terrible and Abu F. hasn’t been able to get gasoline for three daysx85 And you want me to read a constitution?”

“But what will you vote?” I asked, watching the papers as they became streaked with the crimson, blood-like tooki stains.

“You’ll actually vote?’ She scoffed. ‘It will be a joke like the electionsx85 They want this constitution and the Americans want it- do you think it will make a difference if you vote against it?’ She had finished clearing the top edge of the wall of the wilting tooki and she dumped it all on our side. She put the now dusty, took- stained sheets of paper back together and smiled as she handed them back, “In any case, let no one tell you it wasnx92t a useful constitution – look how clean the wall is now! I’ll vote for it!” And Umm F. and the hedge clippers disappeared.

Just a smidgen of reality in a still-abstract debate.

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