August 16, 2005

7 More Days for Iraq's Constitution

And so, in the eleventh hour, a week deferral was granted for the Iraqi constitution writing committe to come up with an agreed draft. The major sticking points are a mix of the hereafter and the here & now: Islam, oil and political power.

The Kurdish side, which all along demonstrated better negotiations strategy , PR , and legal edge ( thanks perhaps to the likes of Peter Galbraith) has obviously little time or patience for discussing the first. Their strategy is focused instead on securing the oil-rich areas around Kirkuk – what’s an elite without an oil well, and total political and military control over Kurdistan, sort of a state of undeclared independence. That’s on top of whatever handsome share of power they can bargain for in Baghdad. Their negotiators have so far managed to obtain further gains in the new constitution (including the right to contract international agreements and have bi-lateral relations with other countries).

The folks in the Shiite Alliance –as expected- are preoccupied with ensuring a prominent role for Islam – and thus for the turbaned class- in political life. But the stunner was the proposal made by Al-Hakim calling for a Shiite autonomous region comprising 9 provinces, extending from the border with Kuwait all the way up to the gates of Baghdad, a move that is bound to provoke anger anddisquiet within Sunni community in Iraq.

But it is also a move that seems to enjoy far less unanimous support amongst the Shiites themselves. Is it, as it has been touted- the best defence against a return of a Saddam–style genocidal era? Or merely, the path of least resistance for politicians overly eager for power and wealth? Why bother to persuade, cajole and engage others in Baghdad, when you can have the oil fields of Basra for yourself?

More significantly, this is a move that signals a marked departure from the long-held Shiite world-view. Shiites do not traditionally look upon themselves as a school of thought running in parallel (or in competition with) the Sunni or other streams. Rather as an inner circle within the outer circle of other Muslims. So I feel some sympathy with the enlightened Laith Kubba (the spokesman for PM Al-Jaafari) when he was quick to point out that this move would run against strong national -and not solely Sunni- concerns.


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