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Analysis: What's After Iraq Referendum?

A member of The Staffordshire Regiment watches passers-by during patrol on the streets of Al Amarah in the Maysan Province, north of Basra, 13 October 2005. Just days ahead of Saturday's vote, Iraq's most senior Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has called on the country's majority Shia community to vote 'yes' in the constitution referendum. AFP photo by John D Mchugh.

Washington (UPI) Oct 13, 2005
Iraqis look likely to vote for a new constitution Saturday but may not get much stability in return. Although some key Sunni leaders have approved the document after key concessions from Shiite and Kurdish politicians, militant groups in Fallujah are threatening to execute them.

Sunnis, who form the bulk of the insurgency, and enjoyed vast powers under Saddam Hussein at the expense of the Shiites, were opposed to the draft constitution, which they said gave too much power the Shiites and Kurds.

Under a U.S.-backed compromise reached Wednesday, the government agreed to change major provisions in the document to prevent a much-feared breakup of Iraq and also agreed that a future elected government, to be chosen in December, will have four months to renegotiate the document after which the nation will vote again on approving it.

In return, moderate Sunnis dropped their opposition Wednesday to the draft and said they would take part in Saturday's vote, which is now expected to approve the document. If two-thirds of voters in three of Iraq's 18 provinces reject the document, a new government must be formed and the constitution process would have to begin anew.

Although the passage of the document is no longer in doubt, it is unclear what will change in the long term.

Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, wrote in his online diary, or Web log, Informed Comment, that the Bush administration by backing Wednesday's deal was playing more to a domestic constituency that polls showed was getting increasingly disenchanted with the war in Iraq.

"The Bush administration is just making them jump through hoops in hopes that will look good and 'democratic' back in Peoria and help Republicans get elected in '06. If the constitution is not ready to be voted on, they should have taken the 6-month extension and worked on it some more," wrote Cole, a noted critic of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq and the Middle East. "This weird procedure of voting on a document that is riddled with escape hatches such that key issues will be decided later by parliament cannot lead anywhere good."

The constitutional dispute centered on these issues:

-- The unity of the country, which Sunnis feared would be compromised if greater federal powers were granted to the provinces;

-- Iraq's Arab identity, which the Sunnis said was diluted by the document

-- The use of Arabic and Kurdish in Iraqi Kurdistan, which Sunnis want to remain part of Iraq.

-- Citizenship rights, which Sunnis and some Shiites want passed only though fathers and not mothers.

In addition, two new clauses were added to the document. One that prevents the unfair prosecution of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, who were mainly Sunni; and the key change that allowed Sunnis to amend the constitution once it was passed.

Still, experts say, one positive element of the political compromise has been the expected participation by Sunni moderates in Saturday's vote. Sunnis had earlier boycotted the Jan. 30 elections that led to the formation of the current interim government.

"It (the passage of the document) won't reduce violence in the short run," James Phillips, a research fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told United Press International in a telephone interview. "But it will help set the stage for moderate Sunni Arabs in the next parliament. That would help undercut popular support for the insurgency."

The Bush administration is pegging its hopes on the passage of the constitution that would then enable the Sunnis to work with Shiite and Kurds to build a political consensus that has eluded the nation since Saddam was deposed in 2003. Possible differences that might arise over the document notwithstanding, the realization that the various factions are actually discussing a common future may be seen as reassuring.

"It would be a mistake to write a constitution set in stone that would alienate moderate Sunnis who are now on the fence," Phillips said.

The alternative is a document that is rejected in Saturday's referendum, leading to more chaos in a country where almost-daily violence has killed thousand, including almost 2,000 U.S. troops.

As Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, a centrist think-tank, told UPI in an interview Oct. 4: "If the constitution is rejected, it will open up even more problems than if it is accepted."

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Iraqi Security Forces Improving
Washington (UPI) Oct 13, 2005
The Pentagon's latest assessment of Iraq's nascent security forces says there are over 200,000 Iraqis trained and equipped to fight, according to U.S. officials and documents.

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