Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Goalpost Moved Back

Following on from this post, it seems that my planned update has been overtaken by events dear boy, events. The situation has all gone a bit Scooby Doo: I would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for you meddling kids.
Iraq U-turn on charter vote rules
Iraq's parliament has reversed its decision to change the rules governing a referendum next week on the country's new constitution.The altered rules would have made it much harder for Sunni opponents of the draft constitution to reject it.
U-turn doesn't really do it justice. Perhaps tyre shredding, 70's cop show style, handbrake turn would be more appropriate. The subtext is pretty obvious.
Crap, we're not going to get away with this one. It's just too blatant. Everyone and their brother has noticed it's a fix. Let's pretend that we never thought it was a good idea in the first place.
Way to win over the Sunni community there people. Failed attempts at vote rigging just inspire so much confidence in the democratic process. Overturning these changes might be the best thing to do now but I fear the damage has already been done. *sigh*

Juan Cole tends to make considerably more informed comments on the situation in Iraq.
I'd say this entire constitutional process has ensured the intensification and continuation of the Sunni Arab guerrilla war for many years.
Not good at all.

While reading about this, I noticed that many respected independent observers (such as Juan) have come to the conclusion that the referendum may well deliver a yes vote even without any dubious manipulation of the result. This is, I have to admit, not something I had previously appreciated. Well, rather than attempt to cover-up my error in the style of our greatly respected political leaders, I thought it best if I own up.

So, it seems that there are a number of reasons for this. As I understand it, there are four provinces which have a Sunni majority. They are Anbar, Nineveh, Salahudin and Diyala. It appears that the Sunnis might only be able to deliver a no vote in Anbar and possibly Salahudin. A combination of factors are at work. Revisions to the constitution have made it slightly more palatable to a section of the Sunni community. Some Sunnis are thought to be unlikely to vote for fear of the dangers involved. Some will boycott the process as they consider it to be the work of a puppet regime acting under the direction of the US government. And Al Zarqawi's supporters are, of course, not going to vote at all.

Shia opposition is also less likely than was previously thought. Al Sadr has not yet made a decision as to which way he intends to advise his followers, but after al Zarqawi's declaration of war on all Shias and al Sistani's statements in support for the constitution, it is thought unlikely that al Sadr will call for opposition of the constitution.

So, an unmanipulated yes vote is now looking more likely than I had previously imagined. This does open up the question as to why the attempted fix above was thought necessary at all. I guess someone just wanted to be absolutely sure. Quoted in the LA Times, Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said it was akin to "taking a sure victory and making sure it leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth". In short, it's another unmitigated PR disaster. What's worse, it's negative effects will be most widely felt in the community which is most in need to reassurance, the Sunnis.

Btw, I started reading more of Mr Brown's views and I can confirm that he's certainly not a cheerleader for the constitutional process. On 31st August he published Iraq's Constitutional Conundrum (pdf). It begins:
The Iraqi constitutional process was asked to do too much too quickly. Operating within the boundaries of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), it was to build a national consensus that would rob the insurgency of its constituency, foster the development of a democratic political system that respected liberal freedoms, and be completed by August 15. In the end, none of these goals was met. The TAL was violated, no consensus was achieved, the Arab Sunni participants were alienated from the process, and the resulting draft is full of loopholes that emphasize democratic elements at the expense of liberal freedoms. Only the goal of meeting the deadline came close to being met, and that was arguably the least important (although the United States stressed it to an extraordinary degree).
In his conclusions he states that the constitution is likely to be ratified in the referendum. He notes:
If the constitution is approved, however, it is difficult to see how it will diminish support for the insurgency. Indeed, ratification of the constitution may be seen by many Sunnis as simply entrenching Shiite rule and Kurdish separatism.
And this was written before the "let's fix it, oops we're busted, let's not fix it" dance we've just witnessed. What a bloody mess.

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