No End in Sight

| Mon Oct. 17, 2005 1:09 PM EDT

Why did the constitutional referendum in Iraq over the weekend go off so relatively peacefully? Gilbert Achchar argues that Sunni voters made a collective effort to go vote down the draft constitution rather than blow stuff up, indicating that they're potentially willing to forsake violence if they think they can achieve their goals politically. Unfortunately, the latter possibility looks remote—especially because Sunnis may believe that they comprise a much greater proportion of Iraq than they actually do, and expect to be treated accordingly.

This December, Iraqis will elect a new National Assembly that will then decide on a number of important amendments that resolve a bunch of still-unresolved constitutional issues, as per the Sunni-Shiite agreement reached just before the referendum. In essence, this is like haggling over the Bill of Rights. Meanwhile, about fifty provisions in the Constitution leave critical details of implementation "up to the legislature," so this next election will be where almost all of the action is. But the Sunnis obviously won't win more than 15-20 percent of the assembly seats in December, so their influence over the new amendments and laws and just about everything worth anything will basically be negligible from here on out. (The Shiites are having a good chuckle about all of this; see KnightRidder: "Shiite leaders said the Sunni Muslims wouldn't win enough seats in the next Assembly to make major changes to the document next year." In other words: "Thanks for playing, chumps.")

From a Sunni perspective, the rational move is probably to continue supporting the insurgency, in the hopes of putting pressure on the Shia and Kurds to make actual concessions come amendment time next year. Or, at least, convince the U.S. to put pressure on the Shia and Kurds. For the Sunnis, violence still accomplishes much more than voting does, and that won't change anytime soon. Indeed, Anthony Cordesman has suggested that the Association of Muslim Scholars is trying to form a "political wing" of the insurgency for just this purpose, something akin to Sinn Fein and the IRA, but insofar as the insurgency has increasingly been hijacked by al-Qaeda and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who doesn't much care for politics, that doesn't seem to be working out too well. Nevertheless, it's no surprise that the Bush administration has suddenly taken a bleak tone on the future of the insurgency; the infuriating part is that the White House only now seems to be recognizing dynamics that have been apparent for some time.