The dreadful election result in Iraq.

Military analysis.
Oct. 20 2005 5:23 PM

Constitutional Disaster

The dreadful result of the Iraq vote.

"A victory for Iraqi democracy" or wishful thinking?
Click image to expand.
"A victory for Iraqi democracy" or wishful thinking?

Though the precise results are not yet known (the votes are still being tallied), it looks like the Iraqi Constitution was approved in last weekend's referendum—but by a margin too narrow to ensure its legitimacy. This would be the worst of both worlds.

The document could have been rejected either by a simple majority of Iraqi voters (always extremely unlikely) or by two-thirds of the voters in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces. The provisional results seem to show that it was voted down in two provinces but not—just barely—in three. The two dissenting provinces, Anbar and Salahuddin, are dominated by Sunni Arabs, who feel—with reason—that the constitution allows them too small a role in Iraq's politics and too small a share in the country's oil wealth. One other heavily Sunni province, Diyala, voted against the constitution by a substantial majority—55 percent—but short of the two-thirds necessary to defeat it. The same may be true of a fourth province, Nineveh.

Advertisement

A few days before the Oct. 15 referendum, Shiite and Kurdish leaders promised to consider substantive amendments to the constitution in the first few weeks after a new parliament convenes at the start of next year. (Parliamentary elections are scheduled for December.) The leaders of some Sunni parties announced that, as a result of this concession, they would urge their followers to vote Yes at the referendum.

The question was how influential those Yes parties would be, compared with other Sunnis who were urging a No vote and still others who urged a boycott, often through intimidation and force. The answer, apparently, is: hardly influential at all.

The outright rejection of the constitution might have been a good thing. A new assembly would have been elected to start the process all over again. The Shiite and Kurdish delegates, who had excluded Sunnis from most of the drafting process, might have felt compelled to take their objections into account this time around.

Decisive approval—say, with a dissent from just one province—would have been good, too. It would have signaled a strong desire, by most Sunnis, to join the political order. It might have driven a solid wedge between the Sunnis and the insurgents who claim to express their interests, and therefore dealt a severe blow to the jihadists who have been committing the most violent acts. In short, it might—might—have marked a beginning of normal politics in Iraq.

But if the constitution passes in the face of considerable Sunni dissent—meaning that last week's compromise had essentially no effect—then the Iraqis, and we, are back where we started. In fact, we may all be worse off than before because the process of passing the constitution will have reinforced many Sunnis' impression that normal politics has nothing to offer them.

There may still be some hope. If the Shiite and Kurdish leaders really do follow up on their promise to consider substantive amendments—and not just consider them, but ensure that they pass—the Sunnis might yet sense some redemption. There is also the possibility that more Sunnis will participate in the parliamentary elections this December. Many Sunnis, including radical insurgents, now think it was a huge tactical and strategic mistake to boycott last January's election.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last weekend that it didn't matter how the referendum turned out. If the constitution passed, that would be a victory for Iraqi democracy. If it failed, that too would be a victory for Iraqi democracy. Rice is too smart not to see the speciousness in this claim. Then again, the sentiment does reflect the endless wishful thinking about this war on the part of the Bush administration.

During her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, Rice took another step out on this limb. Asked whether the administration might expand the war into Syria, where jihadists are using the border areas as supply bases, Rice refused to rule out any option. This refusal is standard procedure, under any administration. Still, who would be surprised to learn that some White House and Pentagon higher-ups are seriously considering this kind of escalation?

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

The Ludicrous Claims You’ll Hear at This Company’s “Egg Freezing Parties”

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 1 2014 10:49 AM James Meredith, Determined to Enroll at Ole Miss, Declares His Purpose in a 1961 Letter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 10:54 AM “I Need a Pair of Pants That Won’t Bore Me to Death” Troy Patterson talks about looking sharp, flat-top fades, and being Slate’s Gentleman Scholar.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 10:44 AM Everyone’s Favorite Bob’s Burgers Character Gets a Remix You Can Dance to
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 10:27 AM 3,000 French Scientists Are Marching to Demand More Research Funding
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.