Deadline for Iraq Constitution Arrives

Iraq’s constitutional delegates are putting the final touches on a constitution that will be submitted to the elected parliament later today. Unfortunately, the minority Sunnis have sharp disagreements with several provisions.

Deadline for Iraq Constitution Arrives (AP)

With the deadline for the new constitution just hours away, Shiite and Kurdish leaders signaled they were prepared to submit the draft to parliament Monday — even over Sunni Arab objections. Shiite lawmaker Hassan al-Sunnaid said there were “no deadlocks” and that the draft would be submitted to the National Assembly by the evening deadline. After al-Sunnaid spoke, however, Sunni Arab members Kamal Hamdoun and Haseeb Aref said there was no agreement on federalism and other divisive issues that have blocked an agreement for weeks. Sidelining the Sunnis risks a backlash in the minority community that forms the core of the insurgency.

The United States, which has pressured Iraqi officials to meet the Monday deadline, hopes the constitution will serve as a major step in luring Sunnis away from the insurgency so that American and other foreign troops can begin to go home next year.

Hamdoun and Haseeb said they had been invited to a final meeting with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and political leaders but the invitation arrived late and they were unsure they would even attend. “I personally support postponing” parliamentary approval until Sep. 15, Haseeb said. “I don’t expect them to hand the draft today because there is no unanimity.”

Sunni Arabs have asked that the issue of federalism be put off until next year. Shiites and Kurds, the two other major groups in the country, are pushing for autonomous regions in the southern and northern parts of Iraq, but Sunnis fear the proposal could split Iraq. Sunnis also oppose other proposals endorsed by the Shiites and Kurds, including proposals for a special status for the Shiite clerical leadership and a formula for distributing oil wealth and dual citizenship.

But Shiites and Kurds dominate the 275-member National Assembly — as well as the constitutional committee — and could ram through the charter over Sunni Arab objects. Other options include amending the interim constitution to extend the deadline or dissolving parliament.

Sunnis could defeat the constitution in the Oct. 15 national referendum. If two-thirds of the voters in three provinces vote against the constitution, it would be defeated. Sunni Arabs form the majority in at least four provinces. “It looks like all the agreements are being made only by the Kurds and the Shiites without even asking our opinion,” Sunni Arab official Saleh al-Mutlaq said Sunday. “I believe the draft is going to be presented tomorrow even if it is not finished, with or without our approval.”

One should note that, not only are Sunnis a minority faction but that they chose to sit on their hands and pout when the Shiites and Kurds were participating in the election. They have been playing the role of obstructionists all along.

Deadlines are a double edged sword. In this case, the fixed date is forcing the constitution to be submitted as is and precluding further consensus building. On the other hand, without this deadline, the factions would be in no hurry to compromise and complete their task.

Update (0933): The NYT weighs in with a similar piece: Iraqis Consider Bypassing Sunnis on Constitution [RSS]

Steven Taylor, who studies political institutions for a living, is not surprised by these developments.

Nor is Kevin Drum:

The fact that Iraqi leaders are having trouble meeting their deadline to finish a draft constitution isn’t surprising. In the past, they’ve missed pretty much every deadline they’ve had, but then eventually come to some sort of agreement a few days late.

[…]

There are some things that can be fudged and some things that can’t. Autonomy is probably one of the issues that can’t.

No doubt. I continue to be baffled that this is a sticking point though; regional autonomy is simply a no-brainer here.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.