Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Betting that the Sunnis will play even if they lose

Wrangling Not Yet Over on Iraqi Charter:
The top U.S. officer in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey, last week warned that if Sunni demands on the charter were frozen out, the Sunni-led insurgency could grow worse. Casey told reporters in Washington that the draft constitution as written jeopardized U.S. hopes for an early spring start to American troop withdrawals

US officials, including John Abizaid on the Sunday talk shows, emphasize that even if the Sunni community in Iraq rejects the constitution on October 15 the process will still be successful because the Sunnis will be participating rather than boycotting. There is some truth in this observation especially if those who go the polls in October show up in December. In addition, the electoral rules have been changed to ensure Sunni representation regardless of the size of the Sunni vote. As a respected Iraqi official notes in a private conversation, the impact of the rule change is to not only ensure Sunnis a proportional place in the parliament, but to reduce the overgenerous number of seats held by the Kurds.

Of course, the rules for the October 15 plebiscite have also been changed due to the parliament's "clarification" that 2/3 of all registered voters in a province must vote to reject the constitution in order to qualify for the veto rule. Until that clarification the understanding was that 2/3 of voters voting "no" in a province would invoke the rule. Clearly, the import of this dubious clarification is to make it extremely unlikely that the constitution will fail on October 15.

This is fine so long as major segments of the Sunni community are not so alienated by the substance of the constitution and the associated reduction of Sunni power that they find it more sensible to support the insurgents rather than the political process. It is precisely this worry that has put the steam in Zalmay Khalilzad's engine.

Meantime, notwithstanding the insistence on the US side about staying the course, make no mistake that the generals are losing a lot of sleep at night worried about the overextended army. They dearly want to reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq, and the key to that is avoiding any stumbling in the political process.

No comments: