Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Constitution: Pivotal Negotiations

Stratfor.com: Geopolitical Diary
The pivot in Iraq is now the negotiations concerning the new constitution. The negotiations are incredibly complex -- not only because they involve four-way talks including Shia, Sunnis, Kurds and (political fictions aside) the United States, but also because the negotiations are taking place within Iraq's three ethnic communities. The Shia are dealing with Muqtada al-Sadr, who indicated to Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari that he would not oppose a constitution. The Kurds are holding discussions internally, which has delayed a crucial meeting of the constitutional committee by two days. And the Sunnis remain divided along the primordial fault line of Iraq: between those who want a political compromise and those who want to continue fighting against the Americans, as well as all the complex divisions within each camp. With the Aug. 15 deadline for a constitutional draft still in place, the negotiators have one week to come up with a solution. That by itself is not troubling. Many negotiations don't come together until the last minute, with each side trying to extract last-minute concessions by appearing to be prepared to walk away from the table. What is troubling is the basic character of the dispute: No one seems quite able to decide the fundamental character of the Iraqi state. The core issue is federalism. The Kurds are absolutely insisting on a federal state that would allow each community -- particularly the Kurds, naturally -- to maintain a great deal of autonomy. According to Jaafari, Iraqi Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has indicated that he could live with a federal regime. The Sunnis, however, rejected this idea. According to Kamal Hamdan, a Sunni representative on the committee, "The proposal rejects federalism at the present time because it is difficult to implement when the country is occupied and the security situation is unstable." It seems strange that the minority Sunnis, who should be interested in protecting their rights from the Shia, are rejecting federalism. One explanation may be psychological. Having been on top for so long, they genuinely expect to return to control of an Iraqi government, and expecting that, reject federalism. There is, however, a deeper issue: Kirkuk. The city is the center of the petroleum industry in the north. Whoever controls that controls a fortune in revenue. Under the federal system being discussed, Kirkuk would go to the Kurds. The Sunnis want to control Kirkuk and if they can't, they at least want a compromise on the oil industry. The danger is this: If the Kurds and the Sunnis can't compromise on Kirkuk, the entire negotiation breaks down. The Shia, who are the ones who really shouldn't favor federalism, have benignly accepted the principle. They may have done so knowing that the discussion of federalism will break down over Kirkuk anyway. If that happens, they can claim to the Americans that it was the United States' hard-core allies, the Kurds, who torpedoed the constitution and that it is now time to let the Shia handle matters their own way. The Shia may be figuring that the United States is so tired of the war it might just let them take charge. It is now Washington's move. The United States wants a federal government in Iraq. That is all that the administration promised the Kurds, and it wants to deliver on it. The Sunnis are not objecting to federalism but to the way the lines of the federal system would divide up oil revenue. This can be negotiated. The United States has enough clout with the Kurds to negotiate an economic package, and the Kurds really do want autonomy. The United States can bridge this. At that point, the Shia will have to make their move. True federalism precludes an Iranian-style Islamic state. The Shia would run their own affairs and have a commanding position in foreign policy. The alternative is attempting direct rule over hostile Kurds and Sunnis. Our guess is that there will be an agreement even if the deadline has to be breached. The jihadist offensive is therefore intensifying, and we are likely moving into one of the most violent weeks of the guerrilla war. The tip-off that the talks are succeeding will come when the jihadists launch a wave of attacks against the Sunni leadership in a last-ditch attempt to warn it off. This will be a pivotal week -- or weeks, if there is an extension of the deadline -- in the guerrilla war.
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