By JOHN HALL
Media General News Service
October 20, 2005
If a few more things can go America's way over the next six months, Iraq may be a little less of a bottomless pit.
The weekend election, on balance, worked. It showed the Sunnis, with 20 percent of the population, that they can get along in Iraq's new democracy even as a minority. That's important to them and to everybody, because otherwise the Sunnis will always just be insurgents, bitter over the loss of their power and wealth.
As real voters for the first time in their lives, the Sunnis came within a hair of rejecting the constitution that their political and religious adversaries, the Shiites, had written in collaboration with the Kurds. They now have an opportunity to shape it further in the coming months so that they will not be shut out of the political and economic processes of an independent Iraq - if anything can ever hold that torn country together once the United States pulls out.
The sooner the Sunni Arabs feel secure in their future, the sooner the United States can leave. Without the Sunnis' help, al-Qaeda will keep sending in more teens strapped with explosives and visions of heaven.
Air strikes like the massive U.S. attack on a crowd around the wreckage of a Humvee are of questionable benefit because civilians, including children, mixed in with the valid terrorist targets. In the end, according to experts who have been to the area, the only ones who can identify and stop the Saudi and other Arab militants who are pouring across the border from Syria to become fighters and suicide bombers are the Syrians, the Saudis and the Sunni Arabs of Iraq.
The Syrians and Saudis are not being pressed very hard by this administration to stop this pipeline of death. But the Sunni Arabs of Iraq, after their display of will and courage in Saturday's election, at least have given everyone some reason to hope for the democratic process in Iraq.
This didn't occur by accident. A last-minute change made by the Iraqi parliament, reportedly at American prodding, forestalled the defeat of the constitution in Saturday's vote.
The Shiites and Kurds, which formed an unstoppable majority in the parliament, agreed last week on a four-month window in which the new parliament can adopt amendments to the constitution next year. That was accepted to give the Sunnis some hope of undoing the blatantly pro-Shiite and pro-Kurdish economic and political slant of this constitution.
That change apparently was just enough to stop the Sunni uprising at the polls. The Sunnis needed three provinces to vote two-thirds against the constitution in order to jettison it. They got only two.
Some Sunni leaders were claiming fraud and there was an investigation of a suspiciously high turnout - up to 90 percent in some areas.
But the suspicious turnout was in predominantly Shiite provinces. Since those provinces were going to deliver heavy majorities for the constitution anyway, the vote-padding did not appear to affect the outcome.
The story of this election appears to be the Sunnis' new willingness to be a part of the democratic process in Iraq, instead of sulking in protest or turning to violence. Most of them sat out the first Iraqi election earlier this year in protest.
Most of them apparently have now seen that they can have an impact despite their small numbers. Although they lost this election, they achieved a change in the basic law and threw enough of a scare into the Shiite majority to indicate they may get more.
The prime target for the Sunnis will be a provision of the new charter that allows both the Kurds of the north and Shiites of the south to create autonomous regions composed of several provinces that they dominate.
The Sunnis fear this will split Iraq into two oil-rich states - one for the Shiites and one for the Kurds - and a third impoverished place in the middle for everyone else. The provision is also dangerous for the United States. Iran's influence over a southern Iraqi region could be strong because of its religious and political ties to the Shiites.