Iraqi Parliament Approves Constitution, Sunnis Dissent

Iraq’s parliament has passed the draft constitution over the objection of Sunni leaders. It now goes up for a national referendum on October 15.

Sunnis dissent as Iraqi parliament backs constitution (FT)

Iraq’s parliament yesterday approved a draft constitution but Sunni Arabs and radical Shia leaders vowed to defeat it in a referendum on October 15. “The constitution is left to our people to approve or reject,” said Jalal Talabani, the country’s Kurdish president, at a ceremony after the draft text was read to the National Assembly. “I hope that our people accept it despite some flaws.” US President George W. Bush, speaking from his ranch in Texas, praised the constitution, calling it an “inspiration to all those who share the universal values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law”. He said of the constitution: “This is a document of which Iraqis and the rest of the world can be proud,” adding that it included “far-reaching protections for fundamental human freedoms”.

Washington, which had pushed for the document to be finalised, has tried to play down the view that the Sunni rejection is a setback. But Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Baghdad, yesterday conceded Sunni opposition was a threat to future stability. Speaking on CNN, Mr Khalilzad said: “If the Sunnis do not buy into this draft . .. then it would be a problem. It could assist the insurgency.”

The final draft was read to the parliament, but the assembly did not vote on the constitution, and it is a matter of dispute whether the Transitional Administrative Law – the interim constitution that governs the process – requires it to do so. The 15 Sunni Arabs who sat on the drafting committee said they rejected the document, despite several last-minute changes aimed at winning their support. One such compromise was as a clause which would allow the parliament to review the current ban against high-ranking members of the former ruling Ba’ath party holding public office.

One step at a time. Clearly, a mass resistance to the constitution by Sunnis could derail the process. Still, even the U.S. Constitution had strong opposition and took well over a year to ratify. It’s a bit early to declare this a failure.

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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.