What are the prospects for the Iraqi Constitution? And what does that question have to do with the prospects for Iraq?
Both matters are hazy, given the stretched-out proceedings and multiple delays of the National Assembly over the last two weeks: the sporadic refrains of imminent breakthrough, then breakdown. After Thursday night's persistent deadlock, it now seems that the Shiite and Kurdish delegates will simply bypass their Sunni colleagues and pass the draft constitution on to the Iraqi people in an Oct. 15 referendum.
This leaves three possibilities:
1) The Iraqi people approve the constitution—and the Sunnis step up their insurgency.
2) The Iraqi people reject the constitution (which happens if a majority of voters, or two-thirds of voters in three of Iraq's 18 provinces, cast ballots against it), forcing the government to dissolve—and the Sunnis step up their insurgency.
3) Somehow, in the next few hours or days, the Shiite and Kurdish delegates offer the Sunnis enough concessions to sign on—and the resulting consensus forms the basis, maybe, for a legitimate political settlement.
Is there any way to get to 3)?
As of Friday morning, the Sunni delegates continue to say they oppose any constitution that defines Iraq as a federation—that is, as a country with powers divided between a central government and regional administrations. If they really mean this, there will be no accommodation; there might as well never have been any talks. The northern Kurds insist on retaining some autonomy; the southern Shiites are getting to like the idea of running their own territory, too.
On the other hand, if the Sunni stance is merely a negotiating position, if there's some way to buy off the Sunnis, what might the Shiites and the Kurds offer as compensation?
The essence of the problem is this: The northern Kurdish provinces and the southern Shiite provinces have lots of oil; the central Sunni provinces don't. The draft constitution allows two or more provinces to form a region—and two or more regions to form a larger region. The Sunnis rightly fear that the Kurds and Shiites will create their own super-regions, which will dominate Iraqi politics and economics.