David Frum August 30th, 2005 at 12:00 am
The new Iraqi constitution is the right answer to the wrong question. As a document, the Iraqi constitution is hard to fault. It is a democratic, federalist document that protects the rights of individuals while acknowledging Iraq’s Islamic traditions.
But anybody hoping that this new constitution will make much of a difference — one way or the other — to the war in Iraq is making a very grave, even deadly, mistake. The threat to Iraq is a security threat, and what Iraq needs is a security strategy.
Indeed, it could be argued that the focus on the new Iraqi constitution gets the problem exactly backwards. The diplomats and politicians working to broker a deal with the leadership of Iraq’s Sunni minority hope that a political success will ease the security threat. It’s at least as likely, though, that it is the dangerous security situation that makes political compromise so difficult.
Sunni democrats open to compromise with their neighbours have been targeted for assassination. Mithal al-Alusi, the descendent of a famous family of Sunni religious judges, has been attacked four times — and both his sons murdered — by terrorists, precisely because he has sought to work with Iraqis of other faiths and to make peace with all of Iraq’s neighbours, including Israel. Al-Alusi is an unusually brave man, and has not quit. But not everybody can be a hero, and so long as Sunni politicians who advocate peace and freedom risk death, only the extremist and the violent will dare step forward to present themselves as Sunni leaders.
President Bush has worked the telephones all week to urge Shiite leaders to show generosity to the Sunni minority in hope of reaching a deal. The President’s work is reflected in Articles 109 and 110, which respond to the jealousies created by oil poverty of Iraq’s predominantly Sunni regions. Article 109 declares oil and gas the “property of all the Iraqi people in all the regions and provinces.” Article 110(1) vests control of existing oil fields in the federal government and requires wealth from those fields to be distributed equitably. Article 110(2) — added late in the negotiations — requires the federal and state governments to work together to develop new fields for the benefit of all the Iraqi people.
But it will be difficult for Iraq’s national and religious groups to co-operate so long as terrorists purporting to act in the name of Sunni Islam wage terrorist war on the rest of the population. Those terrorists have detonated suicide bombs at the holiest Shiite shrines on the holiest days of the Shiite calendar, killing and maiming hundreds of worshippers.
Thus far, the terrorists have failed. Some Iraqi Sunnis have even taken up arms to halt attacks on their Shiite neighbours: On Aug. 13, forces loyal to Jordanian terrorist Abu Zarqawi tried to expel Shiites from the city of Ramadi. Members of the Sunni Dulaimi tribe set up protective perimeters around the Shiite sections of the city and repulsed the terrorist gunmen.
Tragically, there are not nearly enough such successes.
Doubly tragically, when such successes happen, they only underscore one of the worst American failures of this war: the failure to see that the insurgency in Iraq is not a civil war, Iraqi versus Iraqi, but a regional war, that reaches across the whole Middle East.
The most important opponents of the Iraqi constitution do not live in Iraq at all. They are the Sunni Arab nationalists of the rest of the Middle East — whose governments are either actively supporting (Syria) or quietly abetting (Saudi Arabia) the anti-American struggle in Iraq. Listen, for example, to the words of Amr Mousa, Secretary-General of the Arab League, in an interview Monday with the BBC. He called the constitution a “recipe for chaos” because it denies Iraqs “Arab identity”: “The Arab League also shares the concerns of the Sunnis about not defining Iraq’s identity in the new constitution although it is an Arab country, and this has been done for the sake of a non-Arab minority like the Kurds.”
Mousa’s words are infused with the spirit of imperial entitlement. They deny that Iraq’s Kurds might have equal claim to define the identity of the country in which they live. They deny Iraq’s independence, downgrading a democratically elected government to nothing more than a subordinate component of an undemocratically ruled “Arab nation.” And it is the spirit behind his words — not the deficiencies, if any, of the Iraq constitution — that has excited the terror war against Iraq’s government.
Iraq will not be stabilized by more constitutional concessions to its Sunni minority. It will be stabilized by sealing its borders, by a serious policy of pressure upon Saudi Arabia and Iran to cut off aid to the insurgents, by hot pursuit across the Syrian border and air strikes against terrorist camps on the Syrian side, by a more serious approach to the war in Washington, and by more effective mobilization of Iraq’s resources in Baghdad.
There will be time later, perhaps, for constitutional amendments. Military victory has to come first.