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    Posted: 10 September 2005 at 2:58pm

Iraq's constitution: A divisive framework?
By Laith Saud
Thursday 08 September 2005

Now that the Iraqi constitution is facing a referendum, all of the major figures in Iraqi politics (including of course Zalmay Khalilzad) are campaigning hard on its behalf. 

A great deal depends on the passing of this constitution for the National Assembly and its American benefactor, including, but not limited to, the maintenance of the current parliament and the instigation of a process to begin dividing Iraq. 

The western media has laboured hard in portraying the "Sunni community" as the major source of delay in the drafting process. The Bush administration has habitually presented events in Iraq as sectarian and ethnically biased; this presentation is not arbitrary or due to "misunderstanding" as some have claimed.

More truthfully, differing visions of Iraq are what delayed and essentially prevented the constitutional process from achieving consensual support. On the one hand we have an American-endorsed vision that proposes dividing Iraq up and we have the view of the opposition, which accepts nothing less than a unified Iraq. In the autumn of 2004 the RAND Corporation, an American research company, published a research brief for the United States Navy arguing "cleavages within the Muslim world pose challenges and opportunities ... for US interests and strategy".

The RAND study highlights current divisions in the Muslim world between the Sunni and Shia, as well as between Arabs and non-Arabs as crucial to US interests.

The ethnic and sectarian federalism that has been proposed in Iraq fits well into this divisive framework. This insight into the strategic thinking of US thinktanks provides a contextual background to any assessment of US involvement in the Arab and Muslim world.

First let us consider the elections of January that set up the National Assembly. Many claim the elections evince the will of the Iraqi people; as such, whatever debates that take place within the parliament reflect the concerns of everyday Iraqis, including federalism.

It must be stated from the onset that the January elections cannot be seen as a barometre of the will of the Iraqi people. Seymour Hersh has recently exposed American tampering with the elections; he accused the administration of channelling funds towards particular campaigns to offset other more popular parties. Secondly, groups like the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) never hinted at requesting a federal Iraq. This was partly due to the deficiency of the elections themselves, which made no provisions for public debate or party platforms.

But the SCIRI's newfound enthusiasm for a federal Iraq, not to mention its failure to end the occupation which it claimed it would do, has no doubt surprised and disappointed many Iraqi voters.

The make-up the National Assembly is largely sectarian and ethnic. Iraqis who chose to vote in January were largely compelled to do so considering the lack of an appropriate infrastructure for an election. This should not be taken, however, as an indication of sectarianism and ethnic chauvinism in Iraq itself.

The Bush administration invaded Iraq according to an ideology of sectarianism, the schematics of which are revealed in the RAND study. Since the signing of the constitution this past week, the US has already laboured hard in persuading the world that it is a sound document. The question is, why?

It would seem more appropriate that the US remain silent and allow the electoral process to unfold as it will. The answer lies within the ideology of the occupation itself, which relies on sectarian conflict in Iraq.

The US is heavily invested in solidifying a federal Iraq and making this National Assembly permanent. The failure of the constitution to pass the referendum vote means the dissolution of the National Assembly itself and requires a new election in December.

The Bush administration has no doubt established good relations with the current National Assembly - but furthermore - the National Assembly and the constitution it proposes reflects the ideology of sectarianism that also serves as the basis for US action.

The constitutional committee's postponement of the federalism debate is perfunctory at best. The current draft contains a great deal of language that ensures an ethnic and sectarian tension in the country. Firstly, the preamble explicitly describes the Republic of Iraq as "federa". In addition, consider Article Four, Sections Four and Five of the proposed constitution: This article stipulates at least four different "official" languages for the country and makes provisions for more.

It is proposed that Kurdish and Arabic will stand as official languages of the entire country while other languages will be official in the "regions" where they dominate. The question remains: where are these regions?

Iraq is one of the most well-integrated societies in the Middle East. There are millions of Turkmen all over the country; Baghdad houses one million Kurds alone and Assyrians and others are likewise spread throughout the country.

Offering "official language" status to simply any group in the country will place an unwarranted pressure on all groups in Iraq to "represent" themselves through an official language.

This sentiment will no doubt produce ethnic chauvinism and efforts by some to intimidate those who do not speak the language in a particular region.

We have already seen the Kurdish Peshmarga (Kurdish national militia) active in harassing and forcibly evicting Arabs, Turkmen and Assyrians from their home in Kirkuk. An ethnic based north has been the motivation of their actions and the political process in Iraq has been a powerful impetus in this regard.

As opponents [of the proposed constitution] have stated, the constitution will induce the break up of Iraqi society and eventually Iraq. So far accusations that the US is attempting to break up Iraq have been met with suspicion and dismissed as mere conspiracy. We have already seen evidence of US thinktanks advocating the exacerbation of divisions in the Muslim world. Yet what other interests could breaking Iraq up serve?

In the past, dividing sovereign countries has often been accompanied by violence and civil war. On the one hand the Bush administration says it must remain because of the threat of civil war, then on the other, the administration endorses a constitution that seems to encourage the break up of Iraq and the threat of civil war. It would seem that US action is perpetuating the US presence. Considering the stiff resistance to the occupation and the enormous cost of maintaining US troops many analysts argue that the US would like to get out of Iraq as soon as possible. Yet it must be remembered that Iraq sits atop the largest oil reserves in the world and the United States will do anything to ensure its possession of them.

If Iraq cannot be managed as an entity then breaking up Iraq into essentially three small oil rich states renders them extremely wealthy and weak, thereby requiring the "protection" of the United States, just as in the [Arab] Gulf [states].

The polarised views that the Americans and National Assembly hold on federalism, in contrast to the opposition, reveals who has a greater sense of the country. It is interesting to note that in the January elections, for example the united Kurdish slate did not garner many votes in Baghdad, in spite of the presence of one million Kurds. Why?

Because Baghdadi Kurds are intermarried with their Arab Sunni and Shia compatriots and consider a federal Iraq simply outrageous. The same can be said of the Arab population of the country. The ideological basis of federalism is another example where ideology, in this case sectarianism, bares little resemblance to reality.

While the US encourages a political doctrine that is untenable and contentious, they do so at the expense of Iraqi time and lives. The opposition on the other hand advocates a unified Iraq that respects Iraq's integrated reality.

The resistance, therefore, with its ideology of unity and civic identity represents a coherent, sensible and realistic approach to Iraqi politics. The commission could not simply plunge into federalism with all its complications and senselessness at the present time - if they do so within the next few months it is doubtful that Iraq will follow.

Laith Saud is an Iraqi academic researcher and lecturer in the United States.

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