Informed Comment - Iraqi Government Totters

Iraqi Government Totters
US Goes it alone Against Mighty Sadah
British Leave Basra Base

The wrangling between President Jalal Talabani (a Kurd) and Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari (a religious Shiite) may after all threaten the stability of the government. Aljazeerah says, "Kurdish officials warned on Saturday they would consider pulling out of the government if their demands are not met. That would cause the collapse of the government and put a new layer of political instability and fragmentation between Iraq's main communities." The Kurds are angry because they say the Shiite government had pledged to begin a major resettlement of Kurds in Kirkuk, but has not. Kirkuk is about a quarter Turkmen (mostly Shiites), a quarter Arab and a half Kurdish. Many Kurds and Turkmen were expelled from the city by Saddam Hussein, who brought in Arabs (many of them Shiites from the south) as settlers to "Arabize" Kirkuk, a major petroleum producer. The pledge given by the Shiite majority to resettle the expelled Kurds would threaten the interests of the Shiite Turkmen and the Shiite Arabs, and they surely have put enormous pressure on PM Ibrahim Jaafari to drag his feet on it.

There will eventually be a referendum on the future of Kirkuk in which Kirkuk residents will vote, according to the interim constitution. The Kurdish parties are desperate to flood the city with their supporters, so that when the referendum is held it will go in their favor (i.e. Kirkuk province would join the Kurdistan provincial confederacy along with Irbil, Dohuk, and Sulaimaniyah. The Shiites, by holding up resettlement, are placing that outcome in doubt. The Turkmen and the Shiite Arabs desperately do not want to be in Kurdistan, and the Turkmen have demanded a semi-autonomous Iraqi Turkmenistan instead if it looks as though that might happen.

The Iraqi government is unlikely to fall, since 54 percent of the delegates in parliament are religious Shiites who will support Jaafari, and a government can remain in power with a simple majority. But if even a few Shiites defected, Jaafari could be vulnerable to a vote of no confidence. For the Iraqi government to fall at this point might well hurl the country into a maelstrom of political discontent and even more violence. Kirkuk is a powderkeg.

Al-Hayat: The Sunni Arab members of the constitution drafting committee said Saturday that they are negotiating with US Ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad to make some final amendments to the new Iraqi constitution. Ali Saadoun, a member of the National Dialogue Council (Sunni), said that Khalilzad "promised to add these amendments to the draft that is printed, and to broach them through an appendix to it." But the head of the constitution drafting committee in parliament, Shiite cleric Humam Hammoudi, objected that "These are not alterations or additions but are rather just affirmations and clarifications in the draft language, especially with regard to the unity of Iraq and its Arab identity." In an interview with Aljazeerah, he was in fact alarmed at Khalilzad's maneuvering, and angrily said that no changes could be made to the constitution at this late date.

The UN is supposed to be printing millions of copies of this document, which nobody has yet seen outside parliament, so that the Iraqi public can study it before the October 15 referendum.

I got a lot of flak for calling the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq a sick joke because there had been no campaigning and the names of the candidates were not known until the last minute, and because the Sunni Arabs wouldn't be represented. But now everyone in Iraq is complaining about the sectarian and do-nothing government that resulted from those anonymous elections (however bravely and however imbued with national spirit the Iraqi public went into them), and of course the absence of the Sunni Arabs has pushed them ever further into violent opposition.

Let me now risk some more flak and say that given that it is two weeks before the referendum and no ordinary Iraqis have seen the text of the new constitution, and given that the Sunni Arabs reject it to a person even just from the little they know of it, this constitution is another sick joke played by the Bush administration, which keeps forcing Iraq to jump through hoops made in Washington as "milestones" and "tipping points" to which the Republican Party can point as progress. Not to mention that the draft we have all seen of the constitution is riddled with fatal contradictions that will tie up the energies of parliament and the courts for decades trying to resolve them...

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