Iraq constitution faces vicious battle ahead

Iraq’s constitution has arrived at a security checkpoint – a safe, albeit temporary, destination in its push for confirmation. Over the next six weeks, the country’s written foundation will progress into what is sure to be a vicious political battle.

Two months of intense debate and discussion, followed by almost two weeks of delays, produced the constitution passed through the Iraqi parliament Sunday. Despite the staunch disagreement between minority Sunnis and the majority Shiites and Kurds, the completed constitution is a moment to applaud – but keep the applause brief.

As assumed even by President Bush, insurgent violence in Iraq is sure to spike between now and the Oct. 15 referendum, as terrorists attempt to topple the political process. Sunnis, who largely oppose the constitution in its current form are urging the Iraqi people to reject the charter. On Monday, 2,000 Sunnis took to the streets in protest.

Sunni disagreement, however, was expected. After minimal Sunni participation in the January election, the minority group has had little voice in Iraq’s national government thus far. Additionally, the group has lost the most since U.S. troops rolled into the country. After all, Sunnis were used to the protection of political power under Saddam Hussein’s regime. Now, the group fears that Kurds and Shiites will control the nation’s oil resources, which equate to power in a country dependent on oil exports.

Nonetheless, the Iraqi government is doing everything to coax Sunnis into the process. While Shiites and Kurds could have pushed the constitution through parliament last week, they waited in an effort to appease Sunni counterparts. The Kurds lifted a request to secede at a later date, a move that appealed to Sunnis who feared that the northern Kurds would horde Iraq’s oil wealth. After a phone call from President Bush, Shiite negotiators also offered concessions to the Sunnis, tweaking the federalist makeup of Iraq and changing rules on maintaining Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.

Moreover, to encourage political input, election authorities have extended voter registration periods for the upcoming election in Sunni regions, helping the most hard-line dissenters to cast a vote. The constitution also leaves some contentious points open for future determination.

These concessions are encouraging. A willingness by Shiites and Kurds to yield various points to Sunnis shows a dedication to a stable and secure Iraq in which all groups are represented.

As we brace for six weeks of intense insurgency, let’s hope the give-and-take of the political process might actually be more about healthy discourse and less about taking lives. Global proponents of democracy join the U.S. in an anxious, hopeful watch through the Oct. 15 referendum that Iraq’s constitution will emerge unscathed.

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