Monday, August 29, 2005

So Just How Stupid Are Iraq's Sunnis?

Mark Steyn is unworried about the panicfest that our media and Iraq War "skeptics" are engaging in over the Iraq proposed constitution:

The Shia get an acknowledgment that Islam is "the official religion of the state," just as the Church of England is the official church of that state -- though, unlike the Anglican bishops, Iraq's imams won't get permanent seats in the national legislature.

The Kurds get a loose federal structure in which just about everything except national defense and foreign policy is reserved to regions and provinces. I said in the week after Baghdad fell that the Kurds would settle for being Quebec to Iraq's Canada, and so they have.

The Sunnis, who ran Iraq from their days as Britain's colonial managing class right up to the toppling of Saddam, don't like the federal structure, not least because it's the Kurds and Shia who have the bulk of the oil. So they've been wooed with an arrangement whereby the country's oil revenue will be divided at a national level on a per-capita basis.

If you'd been asked in 2003 to devise an ideal constitution for Iraq's very non-ideal circumstances, it would look something like this: a highly decentralized federation that accepts the reality that Iraq is a Muslim nation but reserves political power for elected legislators -- and divides the oil revenue fairly.

I'm not as easy going he is over the prospect of an Iraq that is divided up by ethnicity and religion:

And if it doesn't work? Well, that's what the Sunnis are twitchy about. If Baathist dead-enders and imported Islamonuts from Saudi and Syria want to make Iraq ungovernable, the country will dissolve into a democratic Kurdistan, a democratic Shiastan, and a moribund Sunni squat in the middle. And, in the grander scheme of things, that wouldn't be so terrible either.

I don't want the Iraqi Sunnis to have their own country. I think it would be quite terrible. It won't just stay an oil-free, poor state that wallows in its own misery. I don't think the Sunnis in the wider Arab world would let a central Sunni Anbaristan flounder. Money and jihadis would flow in and we'd have another pre-2001 Afghanistan on our hands. Oh, no, we can't trust the Iraqi Baathist Sunnis with their own country--not even a truncated one. We need the Shias and Kurds to place limits on the Sunnis until they come to their senses.

The Sunnis are still in denial over their defeat and will have a big decision to make about this constitution:

The Jan. 30 boycott was widely perceived by Sunnis as a disaster, handing control of the 275-member National Assembly to Shiites and Kurds. The Shiite-Kurd alliance then pushed through demands for federated mini-states and set the legal foundation for purging thousands of Sunni Arabs from government jobs because of past membership in Saddam's Baath Party.

Instead, Sunni Arabs are urging followers to register by the Thursday deadline and reject the constitution in the referendum. Voter registration in the Sunni stronghold of Anbar province was extended for a week so more people could sign up.

The very Sunni clerics who railed last January against an election "under foreign military occupation" are now urging their people to take part in both the referendum and the parliamentary balloting in December.

Rejection of the charter would mean elections in December for a new parliament under the rules of the interim constitution approved in March 2004 and still in effect. The new parliament would start the entire process of drafting a constitution from scratch.

Even with a new Parliament, the Shias and Kurds could draft a new constitution through without the Sunnis. Then the Sunnis will have to choose again. Personally, I think the Shias and Kurds might be less likely to accomodate the Sunnis after the Sunnis torpedo this constitution and continue to fight the government. The Iraqi government could just screw the constitutional niceties and go postal on the Sunnis as is the time-honored method of dealing with the losing side in wars.

The Sunnis need to be part of a single Iraq--whether voluntarily or through coercion. The Sunnis have a chance to approve a good constitution that refrains from seeking revenge against the Sunnis for four centuries of dominance and three decades of Saddam's savagery. The Sunnis have chosen poorly thus far. Can they learn from their recent disasters?