Rushed constitution points Iraq to civil war: report

29 minutes ago

BAGHDAD (AFP) - The rushed drafting of Iraq's new constitution has deepened sectarian rifts and is likely to fuel the Sunni-led insurgency and hasten the country's violent break up, a leading think-tank said.

"Instead of healing the growing divisions between Iraq's three principal communities -- Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs -- a rushed constitutional process has deepened rifts and hardened feelings," the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report.

Iraq "appears to be heading toward de facto partition and full-scale civil war" said the report, unless Washington makes "a determined effort to broker a true compromise between Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs."

Iraqis are due to vote on October 15 on the draft charter that emerged earlier this month after weeks of haggling between the different parties, although Sunni Arab leaders have already expressed unhappiness with the document.

Sunnis, who held power for decades, are notably unhappy about the rigorous purging of former members of deposed leader Saddam Hussein's Baath party and about Iraq's federal future as laid down in the document.

They feel that the text "threatens their existential interests by implicitly facilitating the country's dissolution, which would leave them landlocked and bereft of resources," said the report by the Brussels-based group.

In a federal Iraq, Sunni Arabs who predominate in central and western areas are concerned that they will be deprived of oil revenue coming from fields largely in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south.

Iraqi Shiites and Kurds dominate parliament to the detriment of Sunni Arabs who largely boycotted January's elections out of fear of insurgent reprisals or disenchantment with the political process.

The failure to agree a government for months after the vote further reduced the time available for agreeing the draft constitution ahead of the August 15 deadline laid down by the US-drafted Transitional Administrative Law.

The ICG said that Sunni Arabs are also unlikely to be able to muster the two-thirds no vote in three provinces that would see the draft sent back for rewriting and new general elections held in December.

Furthermore, key passages in the controversial document "are both vague and ambiguous and so carry the seeds of future discord".

The ICG regrets that US President George W. Bush's administration "chose to sacrifice inclusiveness for the sake of an arbitrary deadline, apparently in hopes of preparing the ground for a significant military draw-down in 2006".

Amid increasing domestic calls for the US to pull troops out and with "scant evidence of progress on the ground... meeting political deadlines has become a substitute for genuine progress."

Sunni Arabs "appear to have made a good-faith effort to participate" but have been excluded from making a meaningful contribution to the draft constitution, it said.

The US must now intervene as Iraqi parties "have shown they lack the incentive, ability or political maturity to reach an acceptable compromise text".

With less than three weeks to go before the referendum, the key lies in accommodating fundamental Sunni concerns without crossing Shiite or Kurdish "red lines".

One possibility the report cites is to limit the number of governorates that can create a federal region, thereby assuaging Sunni fears of a Shiite "super-region" in the south.

Without a national consensus embodied in a permanent constitution, there is little that can halt the slide toward civil war, chaos and dissolution, said the report.

"Only a determined political intervention by the US might be capable of creating the elusive political consensus that could help prevent the country's violent break-up."