Monday, August 29, 2005


Spoiled and ill-spirited the Sunnis may be, but no one can deny that the suggested Iraqi constitution did not — for whatever reasons — include enough of their input and does not — again, for whatever reasons — engage them adequately. As a result the constitution’s failure, political chaos and civil war threaten.

This looks like the result of strangely conflicting trends: The Sunni minority is disliked by the Shiite and Kurdish majority because it was their Baath political party that ran the country from 1968 to 2003, including the reign of Saddam Hussein begun in 1979; but Iraq, cobbled together by the British after World War I, is intended to remain one country despite the fact that the three main ethnicities are largely in separate regions. The Kurds want out. The Shiites want out. The Sunnis, although they’re not participating in the country’s political process, are the ones who hope the nation stays together, as it’s their part of the country that lacks oil. A major part of the constitution is about oil and revenue-sharing concessions for the Sunni.

This makes it somewhat astonishing that the country has held together as well as it has, and clear there should be more holding it together long term, since the oil won’t last forever.

In the meantime, my impossible suggestion for smoothing the political process in Iraq is to move the seat of government to a Sunni city, such as Baquba, from Baghdad, which Sunnis feel is no longer a home. Grand buildings would rise, people and money would flood in and infrastructures of all sorts would grow as the Iraqi constitution specifies that the business of running the nation (and foreign diplomacy, including the hosting of foreign embassies) will move to Sunni land from Baghdad. Baquba isn’t even that far from Baghdad, but the action, if done right, accomplishes many things:

It ties the Sunnis into the country in a new, vital and concrete way, giving them a role equal to the creation of oil revenue;

It gives the Sunnis something concrete to hold onto in an uncertain time, increasing their comfort with changes in the country and decreasing the need for an insurgency;

It brings Shiites and Kurds into a Sunni city where — again, if done right — a host/guest relationship can create a balance of power until the everyday details of governing makes such distinctions less important;

It’s also a way to start over again on rebuilding the country, this time letting Iraqis do more of the actual work than U.S. contractors such as Halliburton.

Iraqis dislike the Baathists, but there are worse things than letting them feel they get to keep running the country’s government, even if the reality is one of power sharing. Two-thirds of the people get to feel like they’re being big and giving the Sunnis something to hang onto; the remainder get to feel as though they have an important task. And a significant concession.

1 comment:

eric said...

Where is T.E. Lawrence's wisdom when you need it. Check out this quote from "Seven Pillars" about sports and war. And, gee, he only wrote it in 1926.

"In rousing the excitement of war for the creation of military spirits in peace-time would be dangerous, like the too-early doping of an athlete. Consequently discipline, with it's concomitant 'smartness' (a suspect word implying superficial restraint and pain) was invented to take its place. The Arab Army, born and brought up in the fighting line, had never known a peace-habitat, and was not faced with problems of maintenance till armistice-time: then it failed signally."