Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Iraq's new constitution: not out of the sandstorm yet

A few hours ago, Iraq's independent electoral commission announced that the draft constitution was ratified by a 78% vote, with a turnout of 63% nationally.

However, the draft constitution only narrowly avoided failure on one of the more specific requirements for ratification.

The terms of the referendum specified that if three different provinces rejected the constitution by a 2/3 vote, the constitution would fail, irrespective of the national vote totals. Two Sunni-dominated provinces voted by 96.9% (al-Anbar governate, محافظة الأنب, including the insurgent strongholds of Ramadi and Fallujah) and 81.7% (neighboring Salah ad Din [or Salahuddin] governate, named for a 12th-century Kurdish hero whose name means "Righteousness of Faith," including Saddam's home town of Tikrit) against the constitution, and a third province voted 55% against (Ninawah [or Nineveh] governate, adjacent to al-Anbar and Salah ad Din in northwest Iraq, including the city of Mosul).

Although only two governates reached the 2/3 threshhold of no votes, taking the three governates together, over 70% of voters in the "Sunni triangle" region rejected the draft constitution. Considering that the three provinces, especially Ninawah, have significant non-Sunni populations, the result among Sunnis was a thundering "No!!" Imagine trying to bring into effect a new U.S. Constitution if large majorities of voters in every state west of the Rockies opposed it.

Strictly speaking, the constitution passed with the required margin, but to expect the people of western Iraq to accept it quietly would be dangerously naïve. Clearly the Sunnis are not fully on board; the Iraqis will have to take immediate and meaningful action to address their concerns. The only thing that the United States can do to further that process is to step back and let them work it out themselves. This is a job for the United Nations, the Arab League, or some other international agency, to shepherd Iraq towards broader acceptance of the new constitution (with whatever amendments are appropriate) by all factions.

[Hat tip to BBC World and the San Jose Mercury News for their coverage]