Saturday, October 15, 2005

HERE'S THE GOOD NEWS about today's Iraqi vote on the draft constitution: The turnout was very good, higher than expected, especially among Sunnis. Out of 15.5 million eligible voters, perhaps 10 million cast ballots, according to one election official. In the three provinces where the Sunni population is concentrated, turnout may have been as high as 66 percent. That's certainly much more impressive than the turnout in the 2004 presidential elections: just over 55 percent of the voting-age population.

Clearly, though, Condoleezza Rice's comment to reporters:

"All that I've seen is pictures on television so far which looks as if the Iraqis are exercising their right, they are doing so in a peaceful manner, they are doing so enthusiastically. ..."

was absurd. Yeah, the Iraqis who voted were doing so peacefully -- because there were 150,000 U.S. troops warding off insurgent violence.

Another irony is the Bush administration's eagerness for the draft charter to be passed, despite Sunni anger at what they see as unfair weighting of the provisions to favor Shiite interests. U.S. officials were concerned enough about the charter being rejected that they persuaded Iraq's National Congress to add a clause that allowed for changes to the constitution next year if it passes over a Sunni no vote.

"It's conceivable that there could be a 'no' vote," said one Baghdad-based official of a Western government that supports the constitution. "But I'm going to sleep well tonight."

The irony lies in the U.S. having such a strong preference for a particular outcome to a vote on another country's constitution. Why should the Bush administration want Iraqi voters to pass the draft, and work so hard to ensure that they will, if democracy lies in the choice itself -- in Iraqis being able to decide whether they want the constitution as is or not?

Here is one answer to that question:

President George W. Bush said ballots Iraqis cast today for a new constitution dealt the al-Qaeda terrorist network a setback, as the war-torn country advances the cause of democracy and becomes a U.S. ally promoting 'moderation' in the Muslim world.

"By casting their ballots, the Iraqi people deal a severe blow to the terrorists," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "This weekend's election is a critical step forward in Iraq's march toward democracy, and with each step the Iraqi people take, al-Qaeda's vision for the region becomes more remote."

No sane person wants al-Qaeda's vision for the region to become a permanent reality. The problem is, the alternative to al-Qaeda's vision, as Bush clearly implies, is America's vision. So he is setting up a "yes" vote on the constitution as a choice for Iraqis to ally themselves with the United States rather than Al-Qaeda.

That may sound unobjectionable if you are not sensitive to the fact that many, if not most, Iraqis feel as much anger, resentment, and hatred for America as they do for Al-Qaeda.

Which helps to explain this:

Sajida Mahmood, a 40-year-old Fallujah housewife, said: "Every Iraqi who loves Iraq must vote 'no', because a 'yes' means backing the Americans and their agents."

Most likely the constitution will pass despite such sentiments, but that will not make the sentiments go away. It's not approving a draft constitution that will "deal a severe blow to the terrorists"; it's the sense among Iraqis that the sensitivities, concerns, and needs of all parts of Iraqi society -- Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds -- are respected.

The constitution is just a piece of paper. It's the words written in it that make the democracy.

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