Sadly, it’s hard to call this story anything but predictable: The New York Times is reporting that the Iraqi National Assembly may soon approve its draft constitution over the objections of Sunni leaders, who, apparently disapprove mightily. Technically, the Shiites and Kurds could ram the constitution through parliament—although it could still be vetoed by three Sunni provinces during the referendum. Nevertheless, for all the usual reasons that approving a constitution over the objections of a large and pissed-off majority with lots of firepower is a bad idea, well, this is a pretty bad idea.
At any rate, there seems to be a lot of brinksmanship going on here among the various factions haggling over a constitution—Shiite leader Abdulaziz al-Hakim, for instance, has recently made surprise calls for autonomy in the Southern provinces—and one wonders whether a US threat to pull out from Iraq sooner rather than later, regardless of what shape the constitution is in, might actually scare the Shiites into softening their position and negotiating an agreement more amenable to all sides. After all, it’s hard to see hardliners such as al-Hakim running roughshod over the Sunnis if the United States isn’t planning to stick around to protect him from the aftermath. That, at least, is one rationale behind the “set a timetable for withdrawal” camp here in the US. The logic here is pretty compelling, and I’m surprised more Democrats and war-opponents aren’t making it. On the other hand, many of these intra-Iraqi disputes seem so intractable—especially federalism, as well as the distribution of oil wealth—that any agreement forged under pressure would probably turn out to be extremely fragile and lead to further problems down the road.
Then there’s the third option: All camps could agree to dissolve the current National Assembly, hold new elections, and start this process all over again. In the medium and long run, this might actually be the best option for the future of Iraq, but it would also very likely extend the occupation, which would mean more dead Americans. (Juan Cole also offers up reasons to think that the Iraqi population wouldn’t have the stomach for yet another delay.) Whatever the merits of a further delay, it seems very likely that the US will do enough arm-twisting to push a constitution through sooner rather than later, so that the Bush administration can declare victory and then get the hell out of Iraq. Bush has made a lot of noise about ‘staying the course’ and showing resolve and all that, but the August 15 constitutional deadline was largely made with the 2006 midterm elections in mind, and none of that seems likely to change, though I guess we’ll find out for sure in a day or two—maybe even later today. Hey, perhaps something magical will happen and all sides will find reason to agree, though that looks pretty unlikely at this point.