The new proposed constitution for Iraq that was submitted to parliament Sunday and will face a referendum in October is not a document that will please those Americans who are eager for a pullout of U.S. troops.
The Sunni minority sees the Constitution as a threat to their power, influence and well-being. And while the Sunnis represent only 20 percent of Iraq's population, they control four of the nation's provinces, and a two-thirds vote against the constitution in any three provinces means nearly two years of work in electing a parliament and drafting a constitution would be for naught. If the constitution is rejected, new elections will have to be held and work on a new constitution will have to start from scratch.
On the other hand, if Sunnis and other opponents of the constitution fail to muster the votes needed to reject the document, a deadly insurgency is almost certain to continue. And apparently Sunnis will have some support. Among the vocal opponents of the constitution is the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who objects to the continuing presence of U.S. forces in Iraq.
Blocking the exit gate
Either way, given President Bush's statements over the past week regarding a commitment to stay the course, it would appear that there will be no politically expedient way for the president to reduce troop strength in Iraq. The troops will either have to remain to help maintain calm until a new election is held and a second constitution drafted, or they will have to stay to fight an insurgency sponsored by Sunnis and the likes of al-Sadr.
Those who like to compare Iraq's growing pains to those of the United States as it was drafting the Constitution might ponder what the result would have been if the French had kept troops in the colonies in order to control an insurgency by American Tories. That sounds silly -- which is why it illustrates the folly of comparing nation-building in Iraq to nation-building anywhere else.
In the United States, the Founding Fathers were creating a nation unlike any other up till that time.
In Iraq, the Shiites want an Islamic state and access to huge potential income from the oil in the South; the Kurds want autonomy and access to huge potential income from oil in the North; the Sunnis want protection from a backlash based on their minority rule under Saddam -- and access to some of the potential oil income that the Kurds and Shiites have carved out for themselves.
The proposed constitution does more to fulfill the Shiite and Kurd wishlists than that of the Sunnis.
Presentation of a constitution to Iraq's parliament was supposed to be one of those moments that Americans could cheer. Instead, it appears they will be holding their breath -- possibly for years.