August 24, 2005


Iraq's new constitution must be for all its people and should meet the aspirations of Sunni Arabs, President Jalal Talabani said Wednesday. . . .

Talabani said the country's stability cannot be achieved without consensus among Iraq's Shiites, Sunnis Arabs and Kurds.

"The constitution will be to serve everybody and not only one community of the Iraqi society," he said, speaking after a meeting with parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani. "We hope that all the pending disagreements be solved in what guarantees consensus between the three (main) communities in Iraq and in what guarantees the satisfaction and approval of our Sunni brothers in this important matter."

Sunni members of the constitutional drafting committee oppose several parts of the document, which was handed to parliament Monday. Their opposition forced parliament to delay a vote for at least three days to give Shiite and Kurdish negotiators time to win over the Sunnis.

The Sunni objections include federalism, references to Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led Baath Party and the description of Iraq as an Islamic _ but not Arab _ country.

I'm unmoved by the Sunnis' concerns, but my opinion is of limited importance here. On the other hand, one question is how much Sunni spokesmen represent their constituencies. Polls seem to suggest otherwise, and so do reports like this one from the Christian Science Monitor, which I referenced yesterday:

Since January's elections, Iraqi politics has been divided sharply along religious and ethnic lines. But average Sunnis are resounding in their call for unity and to wipe out labels like Sunni, Shiite, or Kurd.

"We don't differentiate between Sunni and Shiite," says Khalid Hamid, a Sunni. The politicians "talk about unity of all Iraq but they stimulate the sectarian divisions." . . .

But all the concerns now swirling around the Sunni community have made many determined to turn out in force in the next national elections scheduled for December.

"Sunnis made a mistake by not participating in the elections," says Mustafa Ali Kareem al-Bayati, a Sunni living in north- eastern Baghdad.

He says there are banners in his neighborhood encouraging people to vote and he says he will be sure to. "Our destiny will be decided in these days."

Indeed, what most Sunnis want now is for the constitutional process to stop, and for new elections to be held, which they expect would yield them more influence. "We want the constitution to include all Iraqis. If this fails it's a good thing. It will give the Sunnis another chance," says Mustafa Ali Kareem, a Sunni.

On the other hand, there's this passage: "Sunnis across the board say they would vote against any constitution that includes federalism or specific language about the Baath."

Mickey Kaus points out that some critics of the process have blinders on: "Kaplan and Cole are so eager to find fault with the constitution (and, by implication, the war) that they've lost touch with logic."

My own sense is that this stuff isn't as important as we like to make it. Americans are unusually legalistic and unusually focused on constitutions. But plenty of constitutions have wonderful language on paper (the old Soviet constitution was great that way) and plenty of countries (Britain, for example) manage to get by without written constitutions at all. What matters more is political culture. If the Iraqi people want a free, prosperous country and are willing to work for it, they'll get that. If they don't, or aren't, then they won't.

That's the story in Iraq -- but, really, it's the story everywhere, including here. "A Republic, ma'am -- if you can keep it."

UPDATE: Reader Brian King sends a link to this essay by Ben Franklin on the U.S. Constitution.

ANOTHER UPDATE: For a more pessimistic take, go here. Meanwhile, Tim Worstall notes that the old Iraqi constitution was full of fine words, but that things still didn't work out very well what with the torture rooms and mass graves and all.

MORE: Further thoughts here.

Much more here.