Tuesday, August 16, 2005

E Pluribus Pluribus


Why didn't the Iraqi delegates agree on a constitution on time? The answer is simple. The deadline imposed on them was an artificial one imposed from without rather than by the political necessities of Iraq itself.

It is no surprise that regional autonomy has become a sticking point. It is difficult to get very different regions to join together unless they believe they have a common interest in doing so. The former American colonies agreed to the 1787 Constitution because they believed that a stronger national government was necessary to their continued survival. They were worried, among other things, that foreign powers would divide them and pick them off one by one.

The problem today is that the Shia, Sunni, and Kurds are not as convinced that they need each other, much less that they need a strong central government. Instead of foreign powers threatening to pick them apart, one foreign power, the United States, which is occupying the country with its army, is insisting that they belong together because it is in American interests to do so. (Meanwhile another power, Iran, is no doubt hoping for greater Shia autonomy).

The U.S. is certainly right that allowing the three groups to split apart would be dangerous for the stability of the region. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the Shia, Kurds, and Sunnis have the same sense of urgency. The Shia and Kurds in particular are more interested in pushing for as much autonomy as they can get. And if the Sunni's wont go along, they may try to push a very weak constitution on the Sunnis, who may have the greatest interests in staying together, gambling that the Sunnis won't be able to veto it in the upcoming referendum.

The Iraqi delegates may get a draft done eventually. But given the internal incentives of the various regions (as opposed to the incentives of the Americans), it should surprise no one that they are taking so long.


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