Peter W. Galbraith on the new Iraqi constitution
September 14, 2005 5:24 PM   Subscribe

Last Chance for Iraq - Peter W. Galbraith, writing in the New York Review of Books, on the new Iraqi constitution. He compares it to a peace treaty between three warring parties. Previous threads: Bush's Islamic Republic. The Bungled Transition. How to Get Out of Iraq.

Underneath an Islamic veneer, Iraq's new constitution ratifies the division of Iraq into three disparate entities: Kurdistan in the north, an Iranian-influenced Islamic state in the south, and, in the center, a Sunni region that has no clear political identity, but that with luck and concerted diplomacy could be governed by a new generation of Sunni Arab leaders. The constitution provides a basis for resolving Iraq's most contentious issues: oil, territory, and the competition to be the dominant power in Baghdad. If these issues are not addressed, they could set off a widespread civil war. ... The constitution has many flaws, but it provides a peace plan that might work, and it is therefore the most positive political development in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein from power.
posted by russilwvong (16 comments total)
It provides a peace plan that might work?

Yeah... for the Kurds and the Shi'ites. The Sunni overwhelmingly oppose it, and rightly so.

Did you know that future oil income from new or reconstructed wells isn't shared? The constitution sets the stage for a massive looting of the oil wealth of Iraq by the Kurds and the Shi'ites.

That ain't gonna wash.
posted by insomnia_lj at 5:43 PM on September 14, 2005

the harsh oil reality of a tri-partite iraq
The process in Iraq is a complicated one indeed, and the more we are there the more confused the entire situation has become. Civil war now seems almost inevitable, and although the US forces have done yeoman's work in creating schools, hospitals, roads, et al in the Shi'ia controlled south, and have had the able support of the Kurds to do the same—and more—in the Kurdish controlled north, it is the Sunni controlled area of central Iraq that dominates the world news each evening. It is there that the soldiers from the coalition forces die each day. It is there that the schools are in shambles. It is there that the hospitals do not function. It is there that the terrorists flourish. As Nigeria was a makeshift country forged by the British colonialists of the 19th century from the hundreds of tribes that had (and still have) very little to do with one another, and just as Yugoslavia was a quasi-nature of even more disparate cultures held together by the sheer dint of force of President Tito, so too is Iraq a nation forged by the British from three very different cultures now rending at the seams.

Few understand that the Kurds in the north have in their region one of the largest unexplored oil reserves in the world, and it may indeed actually be the largest. Suffice it to say that it is enormous. The problem is that the Iraqi constitutional convention is putting forth a federally oriented constitution that grants a good deal of regional autonomy to the various ethnic groups there, creating an inherent instability. Eventually, the Shi'ia will form just such a region in the oil rich south; so too the Kurds in the oil rich (and soon to be oil-richer) north. That leaves the oil-poor Sunnis in the middle. They know this all too well, and it is perhaps the central reason why they fight as they do, having lost control of their once fabulous fortunes in the north and the south.

The constitution, as it presently stands, mandates that all of the revenues and profits from all current known oil reserves in the three regions will be shared by the Iraqi federal government. BUT (and this is a huge "but" ... a very, very huge "but") all future oil discoveries will be controlled by the various regions. This was the only way that the constitution might even be modestly palatable to the three groups involved. Even so, we wonder how it shall be that the Kurds will continue to allow their present oil wealth to be split three ways with the Shi'ia and the Sunni. We wonder how the Shi'ia will allow their oil wealth to be split in the same fashion between the Kurds and the Sunni. Just as the Ogoni tribespeople in the southeastern Nigeria have fought for years to have control of the oil wealth that lies beneath the soil and offshore there, instead of having the revenues flow to Abuja and the federal government, so too will the Kurds and the Shi'ia fight against the Sunni. Were we in that position that is what we would do. It is what any faction anywhere in the world would do. To think otherwise is nonsense and naïve.

There will be a separate Kurdistan at some point in the future. The Turks, having fought the notion of a land-locked Kurdistan on its southeast corner, will now support such a nation, for the Kurds will have every reason to support the movement of their oil through Kurdish-Turkish pipelines to the Turkish port at Ceyhan. If Turkey supports an independent Kurdistan, which for all intents already exists given the level of autonomy and stability in that region, then eventually it will be a reality. If Iran supports the creation of an independent Shi'ia nation in the present Iraqi south as a "buffer state" to separate it from the Sunni controlled central region of present day Iraq, then it too shall eventually be independent and oil wealthy. The Sunnis, as they say, are caught in the middle. They know that and they are creating chaos, strangely, in order to hold the old Iraq together. They are fighting a rear-guard action and they are facing a very bleak future.
cf. "the real ‘clash of civilisations’ in the Middle East."
posted by kliuless at 6:06 PM on September 14, 2005

Bush is such a tool. It would be nice to have a president who actually has a brain, even one as conservative as Bush. However, to have a president who is an imbecile, and then actually wants to do things, that is tragedy. When that president is president of the USA, the most powerful country in the world, that is world tragedy.
posted by caddis at 6:22 PM on September 14, 2005

From the article: This is not, as the constitution's critics suggest, a complete remaking of Iraq. It is merely the ratification of a breakup that has already happened.

I agree. The only issue is how do you keep them from attacking each other. The Kurds get some oil and want autonomy. The Shiites get oil and are a natural to partner with Iran. The Sunnis get bubkes. OK, they get what they deserved, but because of it they are causing and will continue to cause trouble.
posted by caddis at 6:30 PM on September 14, 2005

How many Iraqi sh'iites died in the war with Iran? Did their shi'ism trump their Iraqism? Are they really closer to a people with whom they do not share the same language?

This isn't snark, I really am interested.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:58 PM on September 14, 2005

Holy crap, Y2karl has a second account!
posted by LarryC at 7:01 PM on September 14, 2005

That war was orchestrated by the chief Iraqi Sunni, Saddam. Merging with the Iraqi Shiites would only increase their power, and oil resources.
posted by caddis at 7:05 PM on September 14, 2005

That war was orchestrated by the chief Iraqi Sunni, Saddam

I realize that, though it does take two to tango and the clerics of Iran made a pretty big propaganda thing out of it - fountain of blood and all that. But my question remains. Protestant French and Protestant Germans did not make a single nation after the wars of religion; quite the opposite. I don't necessarily see a stronger bond between, as I say, Farsi speaking Iranians and Arabic speaking Iraqis, just because they share the same religion. How does the man in the Bhagdad street, or the Teheran street for that matter, really feel about the prospect of making one Shi'tite nation? And on whose terms? Anyone?
posted by IndigoJones at 7:24 PM on September 14, 2005

Shi'ite nation, sorry.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:24 PM on September 14, 2005

How many Iraqi sh'iites died in the war with Iran? Did their shi'ism trump their Iraqism? Are they really closer to a people with whom they do not share the same language?

I would say that Iraqi nationalism has been severely discredited by its incorporation into Ba'athist doctrine. As such, Shi'ites are suspicious of their own Iraqi identity. That said, few desire domination by non-Arab Iran. Arab ethnic identity remains strong. In a sense, then, nurturing a federal Iraqi nationalism requires reducing the insecurity of the Shi'ite Arab identity.

It might be that part of the reason they can't decide on a unitary Shi'ite region is that different segments of Shia society have different sympathies in terms of these issues. Some of the Shia shrine cities, for instance, have strong ties with Iran, and of course Iran sheltered many Shia clerics.

The constitution sets the stage for a massive looting of the oil wealth of Iraq by the Kurds and the Shi'ites.

ITYMTS "finding" .... Seriously. Which ethnic faction has been looting the others? I'm sanguine about this agreement, because it's about time that oil revenue was shared locally. The Sunnis may not accept that, but they benefited obscenely from not sharing it for decades. The only trump they hold is a continued insurgency, which is why they're playing it for all it's worth.

On the other hand, once the constitution is ratified, the Sunnis will have different incentives. They'll want to split the Shi'ite coalition whenever possible. They may even attempt to get Sunnis participating fully to achieve the electoral majority. To make constitutional changes they'll require the Kurds or a portion of the Shi'ites. Whether these will prove more attractive than an insurgency is, really, the whole point of this exercise.

Wikipedia is working on a Proposed Iraqi constitution article, btw.
posted by dhartung at 8:42 PM on September 14, 2005

But what about the Iraqi Sex Slave provision?
Is that still in the constitution? I can't wait to get me one o' them Iraqi sex slaves. Fully burka'd so I never have to see her tears, ya know.
posted by Balisong at 10:54 PM on September 14, 2005

(Thank you, dhartung)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:59 AM on September 15, 2005

Yugoslavia and Lebanon are cautionary tales indeed of loose multiconfessional states but I agree that a very loose federation is about as good as it could get after Pandora's box had been opened by the gurning frat boy.

I also agree with caddis that no matter what the political stripe it would be far better to have a President with some palpable form of human intellect.

BTW the status of women in much of the world and the silence of many about it, especially on the more relativist fringes, may be seen by future generations as something sort of akin to the years of silience in the 'civilised' world about the evils of slavery...
posted by The Salaryman at 5:51 AM on September 15, 2005

Galbraith is regarded as being close to the Kurds. He investigated al-Anfal in the late 1980s, as a Senate staffer.

Holy crap, Y2karl has a second account!

Well, I had $5 in my pocket, and it was that or a Big Mac....
posted by russilwvong at 11:06 AM on September 15, 2005

Holy cow! Big Macs cost five dollars? (I guess they must be made out of holy cows.)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:32 AM on September 15, 2005

Galbraith definitely does have an association with the Kurds, and a long-standing record of proposing Federalism or even a broken-up Iraq.

Iraq is majority Arab-Sunni, but not Sunni-Arab. That is to say, Almost all Shia are Arab, and almost all Kurds are Sunni Muslims. The Sunnis have a bridge role in that they share ethnicity with the Shia and religion with the Kurds (as well as ethnicity with the small Christian population). Furthermore, historically they are the best-educated and most outward (read Western) thinking.

While the Sunni Arabs are now the 'bad guys' in the simplistic distilled version of the debate, they are also the key component if there is ever to be a unified Iraq. This seems to be a balance which has never worked when artificially created (by the British or Ottomans), and the results of an internally imposed Sunni Arab domination (Saddam) were even worse.

It's incredibly tricky and the chances are for success are very slim.
posted by cell divide at 11:35 AM on September 15, 2005

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