"Iraq’s most powerful Shiite politician has just dealt a huge blow to American-backed efforts to avoid civil war through the creation of a new, nationally inclusive constitutional order. That leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, has turned his back on the crucial pledge, made before last October’s constitutional referendum, that the new charter would be open to substantial amendment by the newly elected Parliament. Instead, Mr. Hakim, who runs the dominant, Iranian-supported fundamentalist party, now says no broad changes should be made. In particular, he defends the current provisions allowing substantial autonomy for the oil-rich Shiite southeast.
The vote count from last month’s parliamentary election is not yet complete. But it is already certain that the Shiite religious alliance, in which Mr. Hakim is the most important leader, will hold enough seats to block any constitutional changes it doesn’t like. The only recourse is to persuade Mr. Hakim to respect that earlier pledge.
Mr. Hakim’s latest position is a prescription for a national breakup and an endless civil war. It is also a provocative challenge to Washington, which helped broker the original promise of significant constitutional changes. On the basis of that promise, Sunni voters turned out in large numbers, both for the constitutional referendum and for last month’s parliamentary vote. Drawing Sunni voters into democratic politics is vital to creating the stable, peaceful Iraq that President Bush has declared to be the precondition for an American military withdrawal. The most unacceptable defect of the new constitution for Sunnis is its provision for radically decentralizing national political and economic power, dispersing it to separate regions.
In a quirk of geology, most of Iraq’s known oil deposits lie under provinces dominated by Shiites or Kurds, while the Sunni provinces of the west and north are resource-poor and landlocked. Iraq as a whole is rich enough to support all of its people relatively comfortably. But a radically decentralized Iraq would leave the Sunnis impoverished, aggrieved and desperate, driving them into the arms of radical Sunni groups in neighboring lands.
Although Sunnis are a minority in Iraq, they are an overwhelming majority in the Arab world. An irreconcilable split between Iraq’s Shiites and Sunnis would leave the Shiites even more dependent than they are now on Iran and American troops.
Constitutional changes are needed in other areas as well, especially in regard to women’s rights and the overly broad prohibitions against former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. But decentralization is the most dangerously explosive issue right now. Mr. Hakim seems perversely determined to inflame it." NY Times
It was sadly obvious from the time of the First Gulf War that intervention in the internal affairs of Iraq would lead to this point.
A systematic de-stabilization of a major country at the heart of the Arab World in which a minority (Shia) in the rest of the Arab World is a majority locally could only lead to civil war. Is it surprising that the Shia Arabs of Iraq, having been empowered by us should now insist on retaining that power? Is it surprising that this minority majority looks to its coreligionists to the east for support? Not surprising.
The New York Times now perceives the threat of an Iraqi/Iranian bloc at the the head of the Gulf. Who wrote the editorial? Surely it was not David Brooks.