Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Iraqi Sunnis Debate Whether To Wield Constitutonal "Nuclear Option"

Lost in all the commentary about the current impasse in the Draft Committee for the new Iraqi Constitution is that the minority Sunni group (less influential due to their boycott of last January's elections) holds a very powerful ace up their sleeve.

When Thursday rolls around and the final deadline arrives to present the Draft Constitution, the Sunnis know that a "very bad thing" will happen if it is not approved. What would happen, according to the current laws adopted to govern this interim stage of political formation, is that the existing parliament would be dissolved and all political progress would halt until new parliamentary elections could be held.

The "bad thing" would be a major setback in law and order and a major boost for Sunni-led terrorist groups. This is a great threat that can be used as leverage by the Sunni committee members to hold the Kurds and Shi'ites "hostage" to their demands for getting what they want.

There is also the reality that, if new parliamentary elections were to be held, the Sunnis would not boycott the second time around. Enough Sunnis would likely be elected to prevent any alliance of Kurds and Shi'ites to hold absolute power in the legislature (as they do now).

There is, however, also the possibility of this "threat" backfiring on the Sunnis. If the Draft Constitution is presented to the Parliament on Thursday without their endorsement, the Kurds and Shi'ites have the votes to pass it without the Sunnis at all.

This outcome would move the Constitutional process forward, of course, but it would marginalize the Sunni participation in future planning even more. They would be faced with living with a Constitution they did not endorse while serving in a government in which they hold virtually no power.

The Sunni population would then, once again, be faced with either boycotting the Constitutional vote (a tactic that backfired in January), voting for it (which would be to support a document not endorsed by their elected Sunni representatives) or vote against it (which, while most likely preventing its implementation and moving the process back to square one, would strain the attempts at national reconciliation, cooperation and political power-sharing to the breaking point.

Who will blink first? I do not think that the Shi'ites or Kurds will back off much more than they already have.

Although the outcome of a Sunni rejection might possibly empower the Sunnis in the short term, all other scenarios are less pleasant. Not only would their rejection destabilize national security, but it would likely significantly diminish their influence in the future government. Shi'ite and Kurdish anger and distrust towards the Sunnis (already present but suppressed) would show itself in their coordinating power in ways that would leave the Sunnis sidelined as a super-minority opposition party as opposed to being a contributing member of a coalition government.

My guess is that it will be the Sunnis who will blink on Thursday. If they don't, they, and the majority Sunni populations in central Iraq, will be the losers. I believe that they know this and will endorse the final draft.

Then again.....I could be wrong!