Iraq’s rushed constitutional process has deepened ethnic and sectarian rifts and is likely to worsen the insurgency and hasten the country’s violent break-up, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said on Monday.
“The constitution is likely to fuel rather than dampen insurgency,” said Robert Malley, head of the think-tank’s Middle East and North Africa program, introducing an ICG report.
“A compact based on compromise and broad consent could have been a first step in a healing process. Instead it is proving yet another step in a process of depressing decline.”
Iraqis are to vote on October 15 in a constitutional referendum on what the ICG calls a weak document that lacks consensus.
Its report says the draft, endorsed by Shi’ite Muslim cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, as well as Shi’ite and Kurdish parties, is likely to pass despite fierce Sunni Arab opposition.
The Sunnis, it says, are unlikely to muster the two thirds of votes in three provinces required to block its passage.
“Such a result would leave Iraq divided, an easy prey to both insurgents and sectarian tensions that have dramatically increased over the past year,” the ICG says.
To avert this outcome, it urges the United States to broker a last-minute political deal among Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds, before October 15 that would assuage Sunni fears of a Shi’ite “super-region” emerging in the south and of “de-Baathification.”
The parties would commit themselves to acting after December elections to limit to four the number of governorates that can fuse into an autonomous region, and not to bar Iraqis from office just because of past membership in the Baath party.
“There is strong reason to doubt whether such a strategy can succeed,” the report says, citing polarized communal positions. “But given the stakes, the U.S. cannot afford not to try.”
SUNNI ARABS LEFT OUT
The draft constitution drawn up since June bears the imprint of the Shi’ite and Kurdish parties that dominate the parliament elected in January polls largely boycotted by Sunni Arabs.
Fifteen Sunni Arab politicians were added to the drafting committee in an effort at inclusiveness, but the ICG says they felt increasingly marginalized after the August 1 decision not to seek a six-month extension of the drafting deadline.
Negotiations then took place informally among Shi’ite and Kurdish politicians. The Sunnis refused to sign their drafts.
The ICG report argues that U.S. pressure to stick to an arbitrary deadline reflected the Bush administration’s apparent desire to prepare for a significant military drawdown in 2006.
“As a result the constitution-making process became a new stake in the political battle rather than an instrument to resolve it,” the report says.
Sunni Arabs reject the draft mainly because they believe its provisions on federalism could lead to Iraq’s break-up, leaving them in a landlocked heartland without oil resources.
The proposed constitution is also vague and ambiguous on decentralization and powers of taxation, the ICG says, with many other questions left for future legislation — in parliaments where majority Shi’ites are likely to have the upper hand.
“The United States has repeatedly stated that it has a strategic interest in Iraq’s territorial integrity, but today the situation appears to be heading toward de facto partition and full-scale civil war,” the report says.
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