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Iraq: The Constitution Agreement And The Sunni Opposition

Many aren't swayed by efforts to promote the draft constitution This week's agreement between the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party and the Shi'ite and Kurdish leadership in Iraq has done little to sway other Sunni Arab groups to support the draft constitution in the 15 October referendum. The Iraqi government praised the agreement as a success, saying Sunni Arabs now have no reason to vote "no" on the draft, but in reality, the agreement serves to further fracture the Sunni Arab electorate, as those who reject it move further away from the political process rather than toward it.

Sunni Opposition

Sunni Arab groups opposed to the draft constitution were quick to criticize the 12 October agreement, saying that the Iraqi Islamic Party compromised the opposition movement and its own reputation by legitimizing what it described as a fraudulent process.

The negative response of some Sunni Arab groups is not surprising since the Sunnis were never able to agree on their demands for the constitution during the drafting phase. Their inability to reach a consensus and adopt a cohesive position contributed to the frustration of the Shi'ite and Kurdish parties that unilaterally pushed the draft to the referendum stage through the National Assembly.

Shi'ite negotiators had said repeatedly during the drafting phase that Sunni Arab demands could never be satisfied, for as soon as one issue was settled, Sunnis presented another three. An issue would be resolved with some Sunni negotiators, only to have other Sunni groups object vociferously -- saying this or that Sunni group did not represent the viewpoints of all Sunnis.

Obstructive Association

No group has obstructed the process more than the Muslim Scholars Association. This group refused to join the political process, and worked to obstruct progress at every turn.

Association head Harith al-Dari told Al-Jazeera television in a 12 October interview that he believed the Islamic Party was tricked into the agreement, and that the party acted according to its political interests rather than the national interest. "They have given legitimacy to the political process, which is in crisis, and paved the way to [accommodate] the U.S. desire to pass the constitution successfully, and have saved the U.S. president's face based on their ignorance -- or let us say, non-vigilant understanding of the situation," he said.

A number of Sunni Arab groups, including the Committee of Those Made Absent From The General Elections, the Iraqi National Dialogue Council, and the Iraqi Christian Democratic Party also protested the agreement in a press conference in Baghdad on 12 October, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. The groups called on Iraqis to come out in large numbers and vote "no" in the referendum.

Dialogue Without Conditions

Iraqi National Dialogue Council Secretary-General Khalaf al-Ulayyan claimed that if the UN provided another four months to discuss the draft "without any conditions," then "there would be no obstacle for us to approve it." Meanwhile, council spokesman Salih al-Mutlaq demanded that "some paragraphs" of the draft constitution be finalized at a later date. Al-Mutlaq previously called for empowering the next National Assembly with the ability to amend points of contention in the draft. Minas Ibrahim al-Yusufi, president of the Iraqi Christian Democratic Party, said the constitution's draft failed to represent the ambitions of the Iraqi people, adding that the agreement made with the Iraqi Islamic Party amounted to "additional paragraphs that have not brought any results."

Ayad al-Samarra'i, deputy secretary-general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, responded to the criticism, telling RFI in a 13 October interview: "The position in which I want to be does not allow me to assess the attitudes of these forces. I will leave the issue to the coming months, to the judgment of the Iraqi people over this move, and to the judgment of history over the extent to which this step was correct. We have been fully convinced that we have to take this step for the sake of stabilizing Iraq. We are aware of the complex character of the political process: the constitution is a stage in the political process; the constitution is not the whole of the political process. When we see the constitution as a part of the political process, this attitude will leave big and notable traces on the whole of the political process that will be beneficial for Iraq."

Sunni Estrangement

The failure to reach a national consensus on the draft constitution equates to another loss for those Sunni Arab groups that remain outside the political process. Just as they lost out after January elections, they will lose again after failing to present a united position during negotiations for the constitution. In the end, Iraqis will lose, too, as the country will continue to fracture -- possibly irretrievably -- along sectarian lines.

The position of groups like the Muslim Scholars Association, which calls for no negotiations as long as multinational forces remain on the ground in Iraq, will continue to stall political development and give confidence to the insurgency. Here again, the biggest losers are the Iraqi people. But make no mistake; there is no appeasing the Muslim Scholars Association. Although the association argues that it would willingly engage in the political process if foreign forces left Iraq, the truth is, it would not. Instead, it would work to support the insurgent movement and use the insurgency to achieve its goals in Iraq. Thus, real change can only come when Iraqis realize the illegitimacy of this group, which cannot be appeased and will not compromise its vision of a future Iraq.

For RFE/RL's full coverage of Iraq's constitutional referendum, see "Iraq Votes: Constitution Referendum"

For weekly news and analysis on Iraq, subscribe to "RFE/RL Iraq Report."

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