The approval of the Iraqi constitution has been widely praised as a huge step forward in the democratic evolution of Iraq. With this document in place, some have argued that we are one step closer to establishing a unified government and ensuring law and order. Unfortunately, such conclusions are, in all likelihood, little more than wishful thinking. The Iraq constitution has unified no one. It has inflamed sectarian divides even further and will convince Sunnis that they have quite literally no say in the new Iraqi government.
Some have argued that the legitimacy of the document is inherent in that the majority in Iraq, a democracy, approved the constitution. This is not the case. This was not a vote on presidents or members of parliament; it was a decision on the nation’s constitution.
Constitutions, in order to hold true legitimacy, require consensus. Constitutions are the physical manifestation of the social contract between a people and their government. If one community refuses to sign this contract they will not view themselves as bound to it. The constitution is the document from which the government derives its right to legitimately take whatever actions it may. It naturally follows that if the constitution is not viewed as legitimate, then the government and its actions will not be viewed as legitimate either.
According to The New York Times, Shiites in Iraq largely wrote this constitution. The Sunnis had little influence on the process and the concessions granted to them were primarily cosmetic. The lesson to the Sunnis has been that even when they participate, as they did in this past referendum, they will not be able to have an impact on the laws of their country. This is not how you convince people that they have a place in the political process. Rather than create an alternative to the insurgency, this constitution has enhanced its credibility.
Many have argued the Kurds and Shiite have suffered for a long time, and so it’s only natural that they react accordingly now that they have the opportunity. The trouble is that this is a constitution. The foundation of a nation’s laws cannot be a document of vengeance. Presumably, this document is to last the life of Iraq. So long as the political divisions remain sectarian there is no mechanism for the Sunnis to truly have any meaningful influence in the process. And so long as one group is so clearly disenfranchised the divisions and tensions will continue.
The main structural problem for the constitution is that it’s very majoritarian. There are few mechanisms to enfranchise minorities in the central government. Many of the guaranteed rights in the constitution can actually be overridden by a majority vote in the parliament.
One cause of even greater concern is that there appears to be little hesitation on the part of the Shiite and Kurds to take advantage of their numerical power without regard for other minority rights. A perfect example was when the constitutional ratification procedure was changed in a way that would have made rejecting the constitution a practical impossibility. It was only after the UN threatened to deem the referendum illegitimate that the parliament agreed to use the original procedure.
The damage had already been done. The Shiites and Kurds have shown the Sunnis they are prepared to use their numbers to disenfranchise the Sunnis.
It appears that this constitution will fuel, rather then quell, the insurgency and will enhance, rather the bridge, the growing sectarian divisions in Iraq as more and more Sunnis feel marginalized in this government. It is disappointing that the process was structured in such a way.
At this point, the only real hope left appears to be a political landscape that can transcend these sectarian divisions that have been inflamed by two and a half years of occupation. This constitutional process, however, suggests such a development is unlikely in the foreseeable future.
-The writer is a senior majoring in Middle Eastern studies.