Inter Press Network

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Implications of Iraq's Proposed Constitution

Drafted By: Adam Wolfe

On August 15, Iraq's constitutional drafting committee failed to meet its deadline to deliver a constitution to the National Assembly, which then extended the deadline by one week. The following week, a draft constitution was submitted but only on the condition that negotiations would continue for another three days. This third deadline came and went without agreement. Finally, on August 27, the final draft of the constitution was delivered to the National Assembly without the approval of the 15 Sunni Arab committee members, and without a vote.

The failure to win the Sunni committee members' support weakens the prospects for bringing stability to Iraq in the near term, potentially laying the groundwork for civil war. The constitution's embrace of federalism seems to destroy any illusions of a strong, centralized government emerging in Baghdad, and, if approved on October 15, could lead to the further fracturing of Iraq along sectarian lines and could strengthen the insurgency due to widespread Sunni Arab rejection.

Any intensification of the insurgency would affect negatively the interests of the United States. Domestic pressure is growing for the Bush administration to begin a limited withdrawal of troops from the conflict; U.S. forces are overextended, which limits Washington's capability to threaten intervention effectively elsewhere. An intensification of the insurgency will make it difficult for the United States to pull its troops out of Iraq since Baghdad's current security forces are not capable of adequately handling the ongoing guerrilla campaign.

What the Constitution Means for Iraq's Future

Many issues proved highly contentious during the constitutional negotiations, but most were resolved by August 25. According to Article Two of the proposed constitution, Islam will be "a basic source" for the law -- a compromise between religious Shi'a Arabs who wanted Islam to be the fundamental source of law and secular-minded Iraqis who would have preferred a more diminished role for religion. This compromise will also allow clerics to sit on the country's Supreme Court, but not as a majority. Protections for women's rights, religious freedom and democratic principles were added, though it is not clear whether they will trump Islamic law when in conflict.

A bargain of sorts was also reached on the sharing of oil revenues. Iraq's existing oil fields sit in the northern region controlled by the Sunni Kurds and in the Shi'a-dominated south. Sunni Arabs feared that language in the proposed constitution would allow the Kurds and Shi'a to control the revenues generated by the oil fields. Article 110 proposes that all revenue generated by existing operations will be distributed fairly based on the population of each province. However, the language is vague and stipulates that those regions neglected by "the former regime" -- the Shi'a and Kurdish areas -- will be allowed a disproportionate share of the revenue for an undeclared period of time. This compromise did little to assuage Sunni Arab concerns over federalism.

Federalism became the major sticking point when pious Shi'a proposed a system that would allow for a province to link up with other provinces to form a federal region -- with greater autonomy from the central government -- merely through a referendum by simple majority. It was expected that the Kurds would maintain the autonomy of the region they control in the north, but this provision proved indigestible to the Sunni Arabs. Some of the Shi'a negotiators imagined that the provinces in the south, sitting on some of Iraq's major oil fields, could link-up to form a "super" region. Their Kurdish counterparts allowed this language to be inserted because it will strengthen their claim to Kirkuk, which under the Transitional Administrative Law for Iraq (T.A.L.) will likely be absorbed into their autonomous zone anyway.

The Sunni Arabs believed that the main Shi'a negotiators were laying the groundwork to break up Iraq along sectarian lines, leaving them with the oil-free regions. Secular Shi'a argued that this would allow Iran to establish a toehold in southern Iraq, as many of the region's leaders will be drawn from the forces that fought on the Iran side of the Iraq-Iran war. The pious Shi'a and Kurdish negotiators bent slightly on these issues, but no compromise with their Sunni Arab counterparts was struck.

The other major point of contention for the Sunni Arab negotiators was the de-Ba'athification policy. Article 132 calls for a continuation of the removal of ex-Ba'ath Party members from government posts during the transition to a new government. Sunni Arabs argue that this had no place in the constitution since it addresses a period of time before the constitution will come into effect. Also, an absolute majority in the Council of Representatives is necessary to end the de-Ba'athification policy, something the Sunni Arabs simply will never be able to deliver. This language was slightly adjusted in response to Sunni Arab requests, but remains part of the document.

While the national assembly did not vote on the draft constitution, it will be put to referendum on October 15. As the second deadline passed, Shi'a and Kurdish negotiators worked out the final details without the input of the 15 Sunni Arab members. When presented with the final document, the Sunnis rejected the text and forced yet another delay. Ignoring previous statements about Iraqi sovereignty, Washington became intimately involved in the final days of the negotiations and pushed for a compromise but also approved of the locking out of the Sunni Arabs. U.S. President George W. Bush personally called Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a cleric and the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (S.C.I.R.I.), to lobby for a compromise. In the end, the constitution was delivered without Sunni Arab approval.

Everything now depends on October 15. The U.S. has scaled back its ambitions in Iraq and believes the constitution's approval will greatly determine the timeline on which troops can be withdrawn. The run up to the referendum will see an increase in sectarian rhetoric and perhaps an increase in violence as insurgents attempt to derail the vote. It is taken for granted that the Kurdish north and Shi'a south will cast their votes for the constitution. What is less certain is how the center of the country will respond.

Looking Beyond October 15

The prospects for Iraq's future now largely rest on the Sunni Arab reaction to the constitution. Whether or not Sunnis participate in the October 15 referendum, and whether or not their participation has an effect on its passage, will be of extreme importance. There are several possible scenarios that Sunni Arab participation could take, some more probable than others. In the unlikely prospect that Sunni Arabs turn out for the referendum in decent numbers and approve of the text, the insurgency will lose its most potent domestic base of support; the U.S. plan to hand off the responsibilities of containing the insurgency could then continue on its proposed course. Though this would have little effect on the jihadist insurgents, it could undermine the Ba'athist insurgency.

In the more likely case that Sunni Arabs stay away from the polls in October and the constitution gains approval without their participation, the insurgency will likely continue unabated, as the central government will find it difficult to project its power into regions that reject its authority. In the previous elections, Sunni Arabs largely did not participate because of threats of violence by jihadist and Ba'athist insurgents. While some of the Sunni Arab groups who previously argued against participation seem to have changed course and now advocate voting down the constitution, the insurgents' threats may prevent any substantial uptick in Sunni turnout.

This would likely prevent any significant Sunni Arab participation and would strengthen the trend toward federalism based on sectarian lines that the proposed constitution allows. A weak central government dominated by regional governments could eventually lead to the dismantling of Iraq along sectarian lines -- a prospect that the Sunni Arab-dominated central region, which lacks the oil fields of the Kurdish north and Shi'a south, would violently reject.

Another likely possibility is that Sunni Arabs will turn out for the referendum but fail to muster the two-thirds majority in three provinces necessary to defeat the constitution's approval. If this scenario plays out, it is highly unlikely that the Sunni population would participate in the newly formed Iraqi state, and the insurgency would find an expanded base of support in the Sunni rejection. Reuters quoted a Sunni Arab delegate as saying, "If they pass the constitution, then the rebellion will reach its peak." While Sunni Arab non-participation on the referendum, if passed, could eventually lead to civil war, Sunni participation that fails to alter the outcome could lead to the immediate outbreak of such a situation.

The T.A.L. outlines the course of action if the constitution is defeated in October. The government will be dissolved and replaced by a new assembly to be elected no later than December 15. The new assembly would have another year to draft a second constitution, of which the T.A.L. does not lay out a process for passage. This option may be the best-case scenario for bringing the Sunni population into the political process, but that would depend on the Shi'a-Kurdish reaction. Potentially, Sunni Arab rejection of the constitution could harden the fault lines between the Kurdish-Shi'a alliance and the Sunni Arab leaders that they still view as oppressors. No group has been above using violence up to this point, but, to varying degrees, they have maintained the political tract as the main avenue to resolve their differences. It is possible that Sunni Arab rejection will encourage Shi'a and Kurdish groups to use force to resolve the differences, leading to civil war.

Sunni Arabs have majorities in three provinces, but it seems unlikely that they would be able to generate a two-thirds majority in Nineveh, where there is a large Kurdish population. The Shi'a-Kurdish decision to send the constitution to referendum without the support of the Sunni Arab leadership was made on the assumption that the Sunnis will be unable to defeat the measure. The possibility that the Baghdad province could join in opposition to the referendum seems to be the biggest gamble to the Shi'a-Kurdish proposal. If it is defeated, the U.S.-led coalition will need to fill in the void left by the dissolved government if a singular Iraqi state is to be maintained, necessitating the delay of current withdrawal plans.

No matter the outcome on October 15, rebellious Shi'a leader Moqtada al-Sadr seems poised to reap the benefits of the referendum. When al-Sadr's followers attempted to reopen his office in Najaf on August 23, the Badr Corps, the armed faction of S.C.I.R.I., a rival Shi'a group, blocked them. The violence quickly spread to several other cities, including Baghdad, and Prime Minster Ibrahim Jaafari took to the airwaves to plead for peace, with little effect. Only when al-Sadr ordered it did the violence come to an end. This demonstration of power is important to note because al-Sadr, repeatedly declared "marginalized" by U.S. officials, is emerging as a bridge between Sunni Arab insurgents and nationalistic Shi'a in his rejections of the trend toward federalism advanced by the proposed constitution.

Nationalist Shi'a fear that religious Shi'a, who fought on the Iran side in the Iraq-Iran war, would dominate a southern autonomous region and find al-Sadr's proposal of a strong centralized government attractive. Some secular-minded Shi'a might also find themselves in an alliance-of-interests with al-Sadr as October 15 approaches. Sunni rejectionists are aligned with him on the issue and al-Sadr has signed most of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars' declarations since January 2005.

The Sunni Arab leaders may be able to deliver sufficient majorities in the Anbar and Salahuddin provinces to defeat the constitution, but they will need al-Sadr's help to deliver Baghdad, a province in itself. Even if this scenario does not play out, the referendum is likely to find many malcontents, and al-Sadr seems poised to lead them. Whether his leadership will be within the government or against it depends on how the vote plays out. [See: "After Winning Concessions, Al-Sadr Tries His Hand at Diplomacy"]


The future of Iraq will largely be determined by the Sunni Arab reaction to the referendum on October 15. There are several scenarios that could quickly lead to civil war or to the break-up of Iraq along sectarian lines. The constitution does not propose a strong central government; it opts for a federal system instead. It is the Sunni Arab assumption that this is designed to deprive them of their share of the country's oil wealth. However, even if Sunni Arab concerns are addressed, a future Iraqi state without a strong center might, in time, lead to the break-up of its geographical integrity.

Growing Signs of Unrest in the Maldives

Drafted By: Dr. Sudha Ramachandran

The Maldivian government's use of excessive force in mid-August to quell demonstrations by opposition activists demanding democratic reforms indicates that its commitment to establishing multi-party democracy in the country remains weak. There is a danger that its foot dragging on democratic reform and the suppression of its secular-moderate opponents could clear the way for assertion of hard-line Islamists in the country.

The Anti-Government Protests

Anti-government demonstrations calling for Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's resignation and fresh elections turned violent when police used tear gas, electric batons and water cannons to disperse the protestors. Dozens of members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (M.D.P.) were taken into custody.

What has further fueled anger against the government is that the arrest of M.D.P. activists preceded the riots. M.D.P. chairman Mohamed Nasheed, a vocal critic of Gayoom, was arrested even before the protests turned violent. According to Maldivian media sources, on August 12 "Nasheed and three other M.D.P. members were seated all by themselves in the Republican Square when the riot squad came and dragged them away. There were no other M.D.P. protesters participating in the event."

The current crackdown has dashed hopes raised in June 2005 when the government took some tentative steps towards the setting up of a multi-party democracy. The government promised to have in place before the end of 2005 a full-fledged democratic system. It lifted the ban on political parties.

Background of Current Unrest

Better known for its emerald green waters and white sandy beaches, the Maldives -- an archipelago of 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered around 850 kilometers (528 miles) across the equator to the southwest of India -- has appeared in international news more in relation to climate and environmental issues rather than political ones. This seemingly serene archipelago now appears to be slipping toward political turmoil. Violent confrontation between authorities and the public is growing in frequency.

Unprecedented anti-government riots rocked the Maldives capital, Male, in September 2003. The violent protests were a spontaneous response to a prison riot in which at least three inmates were shot dead by jail authorities. It emerged that the prison riot was triggered by the death of an inmate following torture by the police.

In August 2004, pro-democracy demonstrations shook Male once again. The government responded with an iron hand. Almost a hundred people were jailed and a state of emergency was declared in the country.

Torture and government repression is not new to the Maldives. Scores of opponents of the government are said to be languishing in jails. The Maldives' police force, the National Security Service (N.S.S.), is known to intimidate opponents of the regime. As Amnesty International observed following the violent events of 2003, "The killing of at least three prisoners by the N.S.S. and the injury of a dozen more in Maafushi Prison is only the latest chapter in a catalogue of human rights violations in the country by N.S.S. personnel who function under the president's command."

What is new to the Maldives, however, is the public and violent articulation of anti-government anger. The violent protests witnessed on the streets of Male in 2003 and 2004 were unprecedented.

The recent periodic eruptions of violent anti-government protests are a reflection of a deeper malaise in Maldivian society. There is little political choice and no scope for articulation of dissent. Gayoom, who has been the Maldives' president since 1978, dominates the archipelago's political scene. He is currently in his sixth five-year term; each of these terms has been endorsed by the Maldivian people in a yes-no referendum. And while Gayoom has averaged a 90 percent endorsement in these referendums, in effect, the electorate had little choice. They were presented with a single candidate chosen by the Majlis, or parliament. While political activity was allowed, political parties were banned until June 2005.

Under Gayoom's rule, the Maldives has witnessed remarkable economic growth -- with a per capita income of US$2400, it has become South Asia's most prosperous country -- and relative political stability. But this, his opponents would argue, has been achieved at a very heavy price -- at the cost of individual freedoms. Suppression of dissent and public protest, crackdown on political opponents, muzzling of the local media and blocking of all reformist websites has ensured that challenge to Gayoom is quickly contained.

While the government has been successful in crushing dissent locally, it has not been able to control the sprouting of political opposition to Gayoom's rule overseas. Until recently, the opposition M.D.P. functioned from abroad. The government has been able to do little to silence articulation of dissent on the Internet.

For many Maldivians, the biggest obstacle to democratic reforms is Gayoom himself. They are not all supporters of the M.D.P. However, many see the M.D.P. as the only viable party that can oust Gayoom.

That organized political opposition to Gayoom is growing was reflected in the recent parliamentary election, where "independent" candidates backed by the M.D.P. did well. Of the 36 candidates that the M.D.P. openly endorsed for the 42 contested seats, 18 were elected -- a considerable achievement for a party that was banned at that time.

In June 2004, Gayoom signaled interest in enacting a broad package of constitutional reform. He announced plans to amend the constitution to allow for a multi-party, pluralistic democracy, direct presidential elections, changes in the separation of powers, the creation of a Supreme Court, elimination of the appointment by the president of members of the Majlis, in addition to other changes. Events that followed this announcement last year -- the crackdown on opponents of the government and the heavy-handed response to public protests -- signaled the government was not sincere about the reforms.

The Islamist Factor
The Gayoom government has sought to silence international criticism of its crackdown on reformists by suggesting that Islamists, disguised as democrats, are trying to overthrow the government, and that they will use an opening up of the political system and an introduction of a multi-party system to overthrow the government and impose a narrow version of Islam imported from abroad.

Indeed, there are Islamists among those protesting against the Gayoom regime. In fact, in a bid to counter government propaganda that they are backed by Christian missionaries (the pro-democracy movement has considerable support among expatriates in the West, Amnesty International and some British parliamentarians but there is no evidence that the M.D.P. is backed by Christian missionaries), secular opponents of the Gayoom regime have involved Islamists in their anti-Gayoom campaign. In the process, an anti-Gayoom coalition of convenience between secular and Islamist activists is gathering strength.

Maldivians are Sunni Muslims, and adherence to Islam -- the state religion since the 12th century -- is required for citizenship. Historically, Islam has played an important role in the daily lives of the people. Yet, its practice here has been rather liberal as people have followed a tolerant version of Islam. Women never covered their heads, interaction between men and women was allowed and arranged marriages, practiced in most Islamic societies, have never been the norm.

This has changed in recent years. There has been a perceptible slide towards conservatism in Maldives and the influence of Islamist extremists has grown slowly but steadily.

Part of the reason for the growth of Islamist extremism lies with Gayoom. Some of his policies appear to have contributed not only to the assertion of Islamists but also to the importing of more radical Islamic values from abroad.

Outward signs of a more conservative version of Islam, such as wearing the full hijab or a long beard, are increasingly visible in the Maldives today. It appears that intimidation of women has resulted in more women wearing the hijab today.

So how serious is the threat posed by hard-line Islamists?

Hard-line Islamists have formed the Adhaalaath Party. While it has some backing in the outer atolls, its support in Male remains limited. Maldivians believe that extremists are a minority in their society and that their society is far too liberal to conform to extremist diktats. Mass support for hard-line Islamists might be limited at this juncture but they have politically organized themselves. Weakening the M.D.P. will clear the opposition space for the hardliners to occupy.

India's Role
India, which after Sri Lanka is the Maldives' closest neighbor and is Gayoom's biggest backer (in 1988 India sent its troops to counter a coup against Gayoom), is "not yet alarmed about developments in the archipelago but is closely watching the situation."

While India does not seem overly concerned with Maldivian Islamist extremists -- Indian officials say that they are by and large free from pan-Islamist ideas of jihad, at least so far -- there is a sense that political instability in the Maldives could make it a "safe nest" for jihadis from other countries, especially Pakistan.

Gayoom has managed to convince India, the Chinese and the Americans that he is the bulwark against Islamist extremism in the Maldives. Sections in the Indian establishment accept this claim. India's dilemma in dealing with the situation in the Maldives stems from the fact that while Gayoom has been a good friend of India, it recognizes the need for more democratization in the Maldives if bloody confrontation is to be avoided. But putting pressure on Gayoom could result in him turning to the Chinese or Pakistanis. His ties with China seem to be improving and India is wary of a Chinese presence at its southern doorstep. It is likely, therefore, that while backing Gayoom, India will nudge him towards reform.


If the government stonewalls on the issue of reforms or persists with responding harshly to dissent, anti-government protests could turn militant in demand and methods. By blocking democratic channels of protest and articulation of dissent, the government is in danger of legitimizing the use of violence to express demands and address grievances.

Following the violent August confrontations, the government insisted that it remains committed to reform. In an apparent conciliatory gesture, it appointed "key dissident" Gasim Ibrahim as its new finance minister. Ibrahim, a former member of the M.D.P., was among those arrested after last year's riots. But few Maldivians are convinced by such gestures. They point out that Gasim Ibrahim was fostered by Gayoom's wife's family and that he was hardly a dissident.

It will be important to note how Gayoom proceeds. One option is to address the crisis by opening democratic channels for dissent, a development Gayoom believes could weaken his power. On the other hand, if Gayoom drags his feet on reform, crushes the secular moderates, possibly empowering Islamists in the process, it may create a situation that could explode into violence.

Intelligence Brief: Aqaba Attack

Drafted By: Erich Marquardt

The August 19, 2005 attack on two U.S. warships at the port of Aqaba in Jordan raises concern that the ongoing insurgency in Iraq could, in the future, have a destabilizing effect on the region. Jordanian intelligence believes that the main perpetrators of the attack had come over the border from Iraq, smuggling weapons in a vehicle. The attack raises the specter of future attacks by militants who are veterans of the insurgency in Iraq, similar to the way that fighters involved in the Afghan struggle against the Soviet Union joined together to take on select Muslim rulers and the countries that supported them.

Attempted Attack on U.S. Warships in Jordan

On August 22, Jordanian authorities arrested Mohammed Hassan Abdullah al-Sihly, a Syrian whom they believe was heavily involved in planning the August 19 attacks. Authorities think that the other three came across the border from Iraq. Two of the three were thought to be al-Sihli's sons and the third was the possible ringleader of the attacks, an Iraqi known as Mohammed Hamid Hussein. The three from Iraq apparently used forged identification documents to make their way into Jordan from the al-Karameh border crossing with Iraq.

In addition, authorities think that a Jordanian blacksmith may have assisted the militants in organizing the attack by having a role in the setup of the rocket launches that would be used to target the U.S. warships.

It is believed that the men smuggled seven Katyusha rockets from Iraq into Amman in a Mercedes equipped with an additional gas tank, which was used to hide the rockets. Once in Jordan, the militants rented a flat about eight kilometers (five miles) from the port of Aqaba.

On the day of the attack, three Katyusha rockets were launched at two U.S. military warships that were at the port, the USS Kearsarge and the USS Ashland. The rockets overshot the warships, hitting a Jordanian military warehouse and killing its guard; another rocket landed in Eilat in Israel, but did not cause any major casualties. While the rockets missed the U.S. warships, it was a very close call and could have caused a lot of damage to the U.S. ships, and also would have grabbed major media attention.

Since the launching of the rockets was controlled by a timing device, the militants were able to be removed from the scene when the attack was executed. Because of this, the three Iraqis were able to leave Jordan and escape into Iraq.

Attack Directed from Guerrillas in Iraq

But the key moment of the investigation came when authorities stated that the cell was directed by an unknown insurgent group in Iraq. The Jordanian government concluded that the militants were "in constant touch with their organization in Iraq during preparation for the attack."

In an Internet statement, the Brigades of the Martyr Abdullah Azzam immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks; however, it is not clear whether the organization actually had a role. The group has laid claim to attacks in the past such as the July 2005 attacks in Sharm al-Sheikh Egypt that killed more than 80 people.

Then, on August 23, Al-Qaeda in Iraq -- which is led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- claimed that it had perpetrated the attack. The Internet claim of responsiblity read, "God has enabled your brothers in the military wing of Qaeda in Iraq to plan for the Aqaba invasion a while ago. After finishing the preparations and deciding on the targets, your brothers launched the attacks." Al-Zarqawi, who is the United States' second most wanted terrorist, is originally from Jordan and is wanted by officials there.

The Bottom Line

While Jordanian authorities investigate which group was responsible for the attack, the importance of the incident was that it involved militants who originated in Iraq. In the past, Islamist militants have used their military experience in a country to achieve their political and strategic objectives. In Afghanistan, veterans from the insurgency against the Soviet Union later formed various militant groups, the most prominent being al-Qaeda.

The prolonged failure to stabilize Iraq will result in members of the insurgency using their military experience to land political and strategic blows in countries neighboring Iraq. These blows could be aimed at the United States -- as seen in the Aqaba attacks -- or at governments that regularly suppress Islamists, such as in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.