the Disillusioned kid: Iraq's Founding Fathers? Redux
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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Iraq's Founding Fathers? Redux

Today sees Iraq go to the polls to vote on the proposed constiution (the text of which was still being tweaked on Wednesday). Fearing violence the Iraqi government claims to have closed its frontiers (surely an entirely symbolic gesture given the length of Iraq's borders) and has imposed strict restrictions on movement.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the top figure in the Shia hierachy in Iraq has called for a yes vote. This is significant because Iraqi Shia, who constitute the largest ethnic group in the country, regard his instructions as a religious duty. Most of the various Shia parties were already supporting the document, the only exception being the Sadrists. Even Moqtada al-Sadr, who has various reasons to oppose the constitution, has said he will not insist that supporters vote no. The Kurds are generally reckoned to be similarly enthusiastic, although there are suggestions that there support may not be the given it is usually assumed to be.

The pro-war lobby will, no doubt, insist that opposition to the constitution is limited to recalcitrant Sunnis who resent their fall from power following the collapse of the Baath regime (Sunnins have traditionally dominated Iraq despite constituting only 15-20% of the population). On this basis they will claim that a yes vote vindicates the Anglo-American invasion and everything that has followed it. Unfortunately the truth is more complex. It appears that many secular Iraqis who are deeply concerned by the constitution's enshrinment of religious law will vote yes because they are even more worried about the consequences of having to go through the drafting process again. Furthermore, the call for a boycott of the referendum by Iraqi feminists demonstrates that explicit opposition is not restricted to reactionaries.

Sunnis have also complained that there are no polling stations in the predominantly Sunni western province of Anbar, leading to allegations that the US is seeking to prevent the region - expected to overwhelmingly vote against the constitution - from expressing its opinion. Expressing its opinion is something the Sunni community seems to want to do. While many boycotted January's parliamentary elections, this time there are suggestions of a campaign to maximise turnout amongst Sunnis in order to defeat the constitution. Certainly, US marines in Ramadi (large parts of which are essentially controlled by the resistance) claim that everyone they've spoken to intends to vote.

To be sure, opposition to the constitution is no unanimous amongst Sunnis. The Iraqi Islamic Party has shifted its position from advocating a no vote to support for the document. In response demonstrators have marched against the party, imam's have denounced the organisation for breaking "the nationalist ranks in return for nothing" and insurgents have attacked the homes and offices of promintnet party members. We've already seen inter-party conflict amongst the Shia between the Badr Corps controlled by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Militia. Until now the Sunni have tended to be more united. While a divided Sunni community might be in the short-term interests of the occupying powers who are facing widespread Sunni opposition to their presence, its hard to believe that its in the long-term interests of Iraq.

Despite the attention lavished upon it, the constitution is not in any sense a endpoint for Iraq. The document merely postpones rather than deals with the most divisive issues (such as whether provinces should be able to form regional governments). Juan Cole describes it as being full of "trapdoors" and recalls the experience of the framers of the US constitution who failed to deal with slavery leaving the door open for the American civil war. A bright and happy future ahead, then.

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