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October 15, 2005


"But the terrorists' targets may now be seen for what they truly are: Shia and Kurdish domination of Iraq, loss of access to oil wealth, oppression by the American military - those who wish to see the destruction of Iraq."

would be about as reasonable as your last sentence.

The difference, Rilkefan, is that a legitimate democratic process illegitimizes violent resistence -- putting the lie to your proposed reformulation.

"a legitimate democratic process"

How is a self-contradictory document unread by the voters and written by people chosen in an election we rigged without the participation of the dissidents in question "legitimate"?

for Democracy is as much about process as results

I'm curious about what results you think democracy entails, as it doesn't sound like a very conservative position to me.

How is a self-contradictory document unread by the voters and written by people chosen in an election we rigged without the participation of the dissidents in question "legitimate"?

By fiat.

The difference, Rilkefan, is that a legitimate democratic process illegitimizes violent resistence -- putting the lie to your proposed reformulation.

Indeed. I am sure that, should the Constitution succeed, the sudden illigetimacy of their position will cause Sunni rebels to drop their arms and stop blowing things up.

Should the Constitution fail, I am also certain the Shia militias will ALSO drop their arms and engage in peaceful negotiation.

Please. Pass, fail or tie -- nothing changes. If the Constitution passes, the Sunni will feel they have nothing to lose. If it fails, the Shia will decide to take by force what they didn't quite manage by rigged electoral process.

This is a sham. The only people who view it as "legitimate" are those who aren't qualified to vote in it, by reason of being "American".

The Sunnis won't accept the outcome if they don't like it. The Shia won't accept the outcome if they don't like it. The Kurds -- well, they're just waiting to see if they need to form their independent Kurdistan outright, or just get such a weak federal government that it's what they get anyways.

It's only "Good news" to people with their head buried in the sand up to their ass.

analogy: In 1960, Ireland and Northern Ireland hold a referendum on a county-by-county basis on whether Northern Ireland will merge with Ireland. A majority "no" in 3 counties acts as a veto...
Do you think a "yes" would've quieted the Orangemen? Or a veto-"no" would've silenced the IRA?

Maybe you do think that. But I don't think it's very realistic at all. Legitimacy of government doesn't necessarily happen on a countrywide (or regionwide) basis. It is community-based: religious, ethnic, etc.

If the Sunni regions reject the Constitution there is a real danger of civil war. If the Sunni regions are unable to muster the required numbers for a veto, I seriously doubt that the Sunnis themselves will view the process as legitimate. One side or the other is bound to reach for the gun before this is over, they both have too much at stake to see it taken away from them by such an arbitrary process.

Put another way, the Sunnis have no reason to vest the process with legitimacy *until* it provides an outcome acceptable to their community, just as American blacks had no reason to vest the pre-civil-rights-era judicial system with any legitimacy.

What Wu said.

Also, I'm really puzzled by Von's last statement. Maybe I'm missing something here, but I'm pretty sure that everyone on the planet sees the insurgent's targets in precisely this way. I'm puzzled why - in Von's World(tm) - it requires the vote on the constitution to make this apparent.

I can just see the entire world collectively slapping their foreheads after this vote. "Gee! The terrorists' targets truly are: electrical power, jobs, outdoor strolls, peaceful nights, democracy - heck, Iraq itself! How could we have been so blind?"

Zeyad, of Healing Iraq, with surpassing eloquence, posts for the first time since March:

"I voted against."

End of post. Americans in his comments attack him for his ingratitude.

The Referendum

riverbend stays up all night to give us her take.

And Carleton Wu above was great. I could have been first commenter, but spent 20 minutes trying to explain why process and votes do not confer legitimacy without becoming articulate.

I don't really understand the fixation on Von's last paragraph. I don't particularly agree with it, but it is hardly the important part of the post.

I agree with Von that what appear to be large numbers of Sunnis voting is a good thing, full stop. I also agree that Sunni-led rejection might well be the best outcome.

I disagree with commenters that it won't make any difference. I think it absolutely should make a difference in our positioning (and that it probably would). There are a large number of Sunni Iraqis who are not terrorists, insurgents, or supporters thereof. Getting those Sunnis to see the political process as having the potential to address their demands; and getting some of the Sunni Iraqis who are insurgents or supporters to see the political process as the legitimate route to address their greivances is about the only way a relatively peaceful solution will become possible.

The constitution, especially in the easily-ammended-next-year form, is not the document necessary for achieving a peaceful solution. Rejection of it might allow it to be reworked into a document that does address the concerns of all three factions and arrive at an acceptable compromise. As one major example, the allocation of oil resources (from TAL forward) were to be distributed evenly, but with the important caveat that areas neglected under Saddam's rule would get some preferential treatment. This is still a reasonable position (for education reasons mostly, the infrastructure no longer really reflects this). But with guaranteed Shia majority, the compromise on the degree to which this will occur needs to be hammered out ahead of time, codified, and really should contain a specific twighlight clause of a set number of years.

Constitutional ammendments should require a high enough degree of support to make veto by bloc-voting Sunnis or Kurds a viable threat. The Sunnis will not accept a constitution that may be changed to their detriment at the whim of the Shia majority, and the late changes to the constitution which would have allowed this were a recipe for more violence.

This is why I think it should and will matter if the Sunnis reject the constitution at the ballot box. Majority voting probably, but certainly a rejection, should change our posture towards them somewhat. Some of our policies are perilously close to collective punishment against Sunni towns. This is partly a result of our ineffective intelligence gathering and Shia majority willingness to do just that (pushed by the bombings of Shia civilians), and partly our own willingness to respond to acts of terrorism this way.

Democracy is not the only thing that is a process as much as results. [Previewed, read Riverbend's post. Didn't realize expats weren't allowed to vote on the constitution - not good. Also she's right about nitpicking while avoiding real issues e.g. oil funds]. The judicial system is also process as much as results. Or not, in Iraq's case. Certainty of your neighbor's guilt has to be higher than certainty that your neighbor and/or their family will be beaten/tortured, in order for your average citizen to consider turning in a neighbor from their tribe. This has always been a pragmatic reason not to allow torture in Iraq and to push for an equitable justice system.

My disagreement with Carleton Wu is two-fold. First, if a new attempt at writing a constitution is made, there is the possibility of agreement that would give Sunni Iraqis a majority of their shares of the oil resources now, and equal shares in the future - combined with continuing veto power ovre constitutional changes. Hope for a better tomorrow should not be underestimated. Look at the numbers of African-Americans serving in WWI and WWII. Second, we have some say-so in the response to a "no" vote. At least I hope we still do. Desire by Shiite militias to respond to a "no" vote with ethnic cleansing would have to impact the Kurd's position, and certainly should impact ours. There seem to be enough nationalist Shiites that trends toward "Iran west" and majoritarian clerically-influenced rule could be blocked by U.S. agreement to support Kurds and non-terrorist Sunnis and those nationalists in achieving a Federal system.

A problem exists if we have become incapable, for our own political reasons, of separating the non-terrorist (and perhaps non-insurgent) Sunnis from Zarqawi's followers and enablers. This is certainly not impossible, but if we are positing that we can't support any Sunnis then we'll never split the Shiite nationalists from the theocrats, and our presence in Iraq will only serve to benefit the theocrats. If we're working on that assumption, we ought to be planning our exit sooner rather than later.

I'm not an expert, only an observer. But it seems to me that a federal system is the only thing that will keep Iraq from dissolving, and we'll have to be willing to force the compromises if our presence there is going to do any good. The constitution being voted on didn't seem likely to result in a stable federal system; Sunni nonparticipation seemed like it would make any brokering by the U.S. politically impossible; and so I looked on with hope that they'd join the political process, reject the flawed constitution, and participate in hammering out a viable one.

Shorter - we compromise with non-terrorist Sunnis if they vote no. Or we leave.

(Hey von and SH - any opinion on this foaming at the mouth but interesting attack on Roberts in the Oregon assisted suicide case?)

Am I being inconsistent if I agree with both Wu and CMatt?

Given that some form of Sunni tyranny is a possible outcome, one that we will prevent, I have long thought that a federation is the only other possible outcome. Short-term many bad things can happen, graft and various factions throwing their weight around, but in the long term only a united Iraq can be approach stability.

The Shia and Kurds cannot or will not protect the oil infrastructure. The most committed, determined faction...the one with the most to lose, not the one with the most to win...will have a disproportionate role in the outcome. I have long wondered why the Sunni have controlled Iraq beyond having powerful friends and allies. I guess now I am seeing the reasons.

Great comment, but the reason I think people are focussing on the last paragraph is that as the last thought, it implies that people looking at this in a realpolitik way are, well, you know the drill.

I myself hate being realpolitik, but rather than try and get a balance of power between Sunni and Shiite forces, we seem to have lurched back and forth. Bob said
Given that some form of Sunni tyranny is a possible outcome, one that we will prevent, I have long thought that a federation is the only other possible outcome.

I'm assuming that he doesn't think that there could be a Shi'a tyranny, because we would definitely have gotten off our asses to prevent that, as it would give Iran too much influence in the area. Yet it seems as if, when this mess was just getting started, that we could have worked with Iran, but we seemed too concerned that Sistani, and then Sadr, would have been Iranian puppets.

Now, we have Condi on CNN saying how belligerent the Iranians are and that they need to back down. Not to defend the Iranian regime, but if they didn't think they needed to develop nuclear weapons, they would be crazy. Yet, even as this beat goes on, India, Pakistan and Iran are still go for this pipeline. Plus the fact that China is trading with Iran like there's no tomorrow. But if you google 9-11 and Iran, you will get a flood of sites linking the two, even though the last thing that Shia Iran would want to do is to help on a Sunni plot.

I also think that the African-American parallel misses the point. They were not a group that at one point had political and economic power and then lost it as the Sunni were. That latter situation creates a much more volatile situation than the former.

I'll address some of the comments in an update, but I'd like to point out a quick problem in Morat's analogy to Northern Ireland.

In 1960, Ireland and Northern Ireland hold a referendum on a county-by-county basis on whether Northern Ireland will merge with Ireland. A majority "no" in 3 counties acts as a veto...

Actually, if this occurred, it would require a majority yes vote in 3 of the six traditional counties that make up Northern Ireland, which would represent a significant shift in Protestant thinking.

Fareed Zakaria was incredibly optimistic about what this means. He suggests that the last-minute changes to the Iraq constitution means whether the final vote is yes or no, the system now encourages the Sunnis to work within the political system, which if that becomes more acceptable just makes things better and better.

Two possible problems include 1) there's still no unifying spirit of nationalism (although Zakaria feels more involvement in the process will lead to that) and 2) some Sunnis may decide to screw the process and start the civil war in earnest if Khalilzad's flexibility fix doesn't seem worth the effort to them.

Finally, there's little reason to believe that this in and of itself will decrease the violence immediately, and that can keep changing the equation.

It's worth noting that Zakaria is a lapsed neo-con, so he comes to this with a certain trained bias.

Von: Wasn't my analogy. :) Next poster down.

I didn't even bother with an analogy. I just expressed a great deal of skeptism that a vote would somehow change things in Iraq. If anything, it would worsen them.

Von, I think you're suffering from the belief that there's an objective viewpoint that will prevail about the vote. There can still be a fair, democratic vote, and the Sunis will still be pissed off about it. The insurgents, despite having a fair, democratic vote "against them" will still continue. And if the numbers of the insurgency really are as large as some fear, then all the ballot boxes in Iraq, fairly counted, are not going to stop them.

We're not dealing with rational actors here. And considering how many times we've been told (even in this post) that the insurgents are loons fighting against their country's best interests, I find it amazing that one thinks that a vote is going to turn things around - regardless of the outcome.

Von - it now appears that the constitution passed by a hair, going down in 2 out of 3 Sunni provinces. By your measure, this appears to be a negative outcome. Do you agree?

I pretty much agree with Hal's point, but I think the point We're not dealing with rational actors here. is not, strictly speaking, correct. If we had had any sort of elections (remember, Bremer told us that because there were no voting rolls, we couldn't just let them elect people willy-nilly) rapidly and quickly, we might have been dealing with rational actors. But you can't put the djinni back in the bottle.

Well, rational or not, they now seem pretty pissed.

Sunni leaders responded angrily, some of them saying they suspected fraud and accusing American officials and the Shiite parties that dominate the government.
"There is no doubt that America has interfered in the process, since they and the Shiite government are supervising the whole operation, and since both want this draft to pass," al-Kubaisi said.
Worse is the lesson that the Sunnis seemed to have learned from this democratic process (rightly or wrongly)
"Whatever happens or will happen in politics has nothing to do with the will of the people. It comes from the political elite who run Iraq along with the Americans out of the Green Zone in Baghdad," said Zuhair Qassam al-Khashab, a mathematics professor in Mosul who voted "no."
Granted, this is early in the response to the vote and this is from a single source (and in USA Today, no less). But at least this professor seems to strongly disagree with Von's pollyanna.

mac: 2 of 4 Sunni-majority provinces. The mostly-Sunni Al Anbar and Salah ah Din provinces voted "no". Diyala is only just over 50% though, so getting 2/3 was unlikely there.

The remaining province in question is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provinces_of_Iraq>Ninawa href>. I didn't find explicit demographics for the province, but http://www.juancole.com/2005/10/constitution-likely-to-pass-6-us.html>Juan Cole calls Mosul 80% Sunni, and Wiki says the city's population is 2 million. Some of these are Kurdish - here are http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninawa_governorate_council_election%2C_2005>January href> voting data for the province (Sunni Arabs boycotted). That shows 165k voters with 110k voting Kurdish Democratic national list. The AP report Cole cites shows 380k votes this time, with 300k reported as "yes" and 80k reported as "no". This means at least 200k new voters (many, seemingly, Sunni Arab).

The 78% "yes" vote from the province, then, likely means a something like a majority of Sunni Arabs in the province would have to have voted "yes". The one non-Kurdish Sunni party which supported a "yes" vote ahead of time was the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP). The IIP did place a distant third in the January election, so it is active in the province.

Here's a link to a http://www.strykernews.com/archives/2005/10/15/voting_in_northern_iraq_gets_robust_start.html>TFF press release dealing with massive turnout in the province. TFF is>activist href> but its bias doesn't run parallel to the substance I'm noting in the report. Similar info available from http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/101505Y.shtml>TruthOut href> on the other side of the fence. Short version: mass turnout in Ninawa.

If the majority of Sunnis in Ninawa did vote "yes", then reporting from Mosul and Tall Afar in the coming days should reflect and explain that.

This would be a split of the Sunnis, but would leave the "loss" (seemingly the majority of Sunni Arabs in the country -not province- voted "no") as a result of their fellow Sunnis opposing them at the ballot box. This may still be a non-terrible outcome; more further down. The government could easily say that the power of the ballot existed. This strengthens the perception of power in voting. Not nearly as much as would have occurred if the Sunni had voted "no" in 3 provinces, rejected the draft, and forced everyone to put up or shut up when it came to rhetoric that voting would decide Iraq's fate - but still probably a victory for the voting process.

The problem comes - and it looks like it will to some degree - if the results in this province are contested. The oldest Google news listing I found of Condi Rice's http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/12918263.htm>statement href> that the vote appeared to be "yes" is from 3am Sunday CST (9am GMT). This was based on "preliminary" counts, as the final totals are not expected for a couple days. There was some negative reaction from http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/world/12920119.htm>Sunni Arab leaders over Rice's statements. The http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/10/17/wirq217.xml&sSheet=/news/2005/10/17/ixhome.html>Telegraph href> has more on the reactions.

Again if it turns out Ninawa mostly voted "yes" and stands by it, good. If credible evidence of tampering in Ninawa comes out (sadly, credible to Sunnis in provinces that voted "no", not credible just to my/our standards) violence could actually increase. The insurgents (highest estimates go to 20% of Sunni population) will certainly be telling the other 80%+ "I told you so".

I'm waiting to see what the reporting from Ninawa looks like this week.

Quiet Voting Day

Chris Albritton is in Baghdad. Via Swopa at Needlenose.

I wasn't trying to structure the analogy so that the mechanics fit the 60s Ireland situation perfectly. I didnt think it affected the main thrust, which was that a process- even an objetively fair process- which leaves an ethnic or religious subgroup with a terrible deal is not going to be accepted by them as legitimate.

Another example: India before the partition (ie just after the British Raj ended). I think we could agree that a majority-ruled parlimentary system is objectively fair. But the Moslems in India could never have accepted such a system, as it would've condemned them to electoral insignificance (at least, until religious tensions had died down and they could partner with some Hindu parties, or form nonsectarian parties).
Even concessions towards the Moslems to reserve some seats for them weren't enough to prevent the partition- in the short run, *one or the other* was going to have the power, and neither could accept the other holding the reins.

Bob, thanks for that.

The major media outlets either haven't figured out where the story is or have no reporters in the province - which, judging by Allbritton's background knowledge, seems like incompetence on their parts. Just a couple paragraphs in two of the recent articles. Here are the two:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/10/17/wirq117.xml&sSheet=/news/2005/10/17/ixhome.html>Telegraph href>

Intimidation may partly explain the larger than expected Yes votes in Ninawa and Diyala being reported yesterday.

In Mosul, the capital of Nineveh, leaflets had been widely circulated depicting the voter as a donkey with an Uncle Sam figure leaning over his shoulder and the ballot box transformed into a shredder. "Stay at home," it read.

Again though, compare the 165k January vote with 380k this time.

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=1221763&page=4>ABC href>

Diyala's turnout was only 57 percent, suggesting many Sunnis there may have stayed away.

And Sunnis in both provinces may have split their votes after one major Sunni party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, came out in support of the constitution after amendments were written into the draft text Wednesday. Those amendments give Sunni Arabs the opportunity in the next parliament to try to bring about deeper changes in the constitution.

Interviews with IIP and other Sunni party leaders in Ninawa... wouldn't that be nice.

Sorry, Morat.

I stand by my piece, but I'm going to reserve further judgment on the election until more results are in.

Von: I'd say "I told you so", but I've gotten really tired of saying it over the course of this war.

You might, however, consider that "Thinking the opposite of the White House line on Iraq" has a MUCH better track record than, well, the White House, optimism, neocons, or in fact anyone even remotely for the war.

When pessimism is right -- time and time again -- it's time to embrace it, at least for the subject at hand.

I'm going to reserve further judgment on the election until more results are in

Might want to check on this one

Iraqi election officials said Monday that they were investigating "unusually high" vote totals in 12 Shiite and Kurdish provinces, where as many as 99 percent of the voters were reported to have cast ballots in favor of Iraq's new constitution. The investigation raised the possibility that the results of the referendum could be called into question.


The Shiite and Kurdish political parties in power "were filling out forms and stuffing them into boxes," he said in an interview. "They were also voting in the names of those who hadn't come to vote."

Mr. Jubouri said that monitors in several southern provinces, for example, reported modest voter turnout in their polling centers, but that after the polls closed, officials released overall turnout figures there that appeared to be extraordinarily high. They included results from the predominantly Shiite provinces of Najaf, Karbala and Wasit, he said.

Some centers did not even have 20 or 30 percent voter turnout, he said.

"This gives an impression that the process wasn't transparent," he added.

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