Americans who support the war in Iraq had a common interest Saturday with Americans who opposed the war and want to see U.S. troops withdrawn as quickly as feasible. A successful vote to approve the draft constitution is in the interests of almost every American.
Those who support the war need evidence of Iraqi self-governance to justify the sacrifices by U.S. military people and taxpayers. Those who don’t must nonetheless be aware that this administration is unlikely to begin U.S. troop withdrawal until there’s enough evidence of democracy to make withdrawal seem more like victory than defeat.
The immediate impression is of reasonable success. The election came off with little violence, especially compared with recent weeks. Preliminary estimates – final vote counts are not completed yet – show that while Sunni turnout increased from the election in January, the requirement of a two-thirds “no” vote in three different provinces (of 18) to reject the constitution was not met.
The negative news is that to the extent the minority Sunnis participated, they voted almost unanimously against the draft constitution – not heavily enough to have it rejected but decisively. In Shiite areas, by contrast, 80 percent to 90 percent favored the draft constitution. The disagreement between the groups could hardly be more stark.
This is not necessarily bad news. Sunnis could be in the process of deciding they are more likely to get a reasonably fair deal in the new Iraq through the political process than through supporting the insurgency (some elements of which are still hostile to the old Sunni Baathist approach).
The experts talk of the particulars of federalist institutions and which levels of government have the power to tax. Such particulars are important to the extent that they encourage mutual trust.
The minority Sunnis need to know the Shiites will not oppress them (as the Sunnis did in days gone by) or deprive them entirely of oil revenue. The majority Shiites need to know that a preponderance of prominent, responsible Sunnis do not support insurgency and perhaps have begun to actively resist it.
The ingredients for a civil war and/or bloody partition still exist in Iraq, and it is quite possible that continuing U.S. occupation actually increases the likelihood. The Sunnis could take the lesson from this vote that they will be a permanent minority whose wishes will never be taken into account. If they decide their best chance to defend their interests is through politics rather than outright violence, however, the makings of a new Iraq could start to come together.