The Sunni Recourse

According to Reuters, despite low turnout in the recent election, Sunnis could still prevent the ratification of a new constitution:

Disgruntled Sunnis Could Thwart Iraq Constitution

Iraq’s minority Sunni Arabs mostly spurned Sunday’s election, but they still have the power to block any new constitution not to their liking.

They lost their dominance of Iraq when Saddam Hussein fell in April 2003. They have seen their cities battered by American forces fighting a deadly Sunni-led insurgency. Now they face an election triumph by the Shi’ites and Kurds Saddam oppressed.

Yet they have veto power over the constitution that the new 275-seat assembly is supposed to draft by August.

Under rules agreed last year, an October referendum to ratify that draft will fail if two-thirds of the voters in any three of Iraq’s 18 provinces give it the thumbs-down.

Sunnis may form only 20 percent of Iraq’s 27 million people, but their numerical strength in at least three provinces north and west of Baghdad gives them the votes to throw the political process into disarray — unless they can be induced to join it.

I can see why Reuters would characterize such obstruction as “disarray.” Ideally, we’d like every major ethnic and religious group to approve the constitution and avoid tensions that might spark civil war.

At the same time, however, Reuters overlooks potential benefits. If Sunnis opt for political confrontation instead of violent overthrow, they become invested in the democratic process. They see that, while the majority rules, minorities have legitimate channels to express dissent. They recognize that, even though they’re out of power, they have ways to influence the government. In effect, they start learning how to accept losses.

Of course, it’s easier said than done: Iraq’s political dynamics are much more complicated than my description suggests. But the point remains that institutional recourse — even if it delays ratification — is preferable to armed conflict.

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Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.


  1. JakeV says:

    It’s not either/or, though– participating in the political process doesn’t mean ruling out violence if the political outcomes aren’t satisfactory to you.