2005 August 29 Monday
Iraq: Constitution Or Peace Treaty Negotiation?

University of Maryland associate professor of politics Karol Soltan just returned from a trip to Iraq and found that the negotiations for the "constitution" really are negotiatons for a peace treaty between rival factions jostling for power.

"It's not like Philadelphia. They're not 13 relatively homogeneous states at little risk of fighting a civil war. They're trying to prevent an early-stage civil war from exploding. They've spent a lot of time trying to settle borders and generally diminish the potential for violent conflict. In effect, they're working out key provisions of a peace treaty. Constitution-making is much more difficult."

"I entered Iraq from the north and the first thing that struck me was the flag. It was the flag of Kurdistan at the border. There wasn't an Iraqi flag in sight. It felt like Kurdistan not Iraq. The Kurds have had de facto independence for a decade, and that's a real constraint on negotiators."

"In its current form, the proposed constitution looks decentralized enough to diminish the chance of a large-scale civil war in the short run, though in general things don't look good. Some legislative and enforcement provisions that might have helped long-term stability were dropped. Any effort to create a more centralized government will only make things worse."

The Kurds effectively have their own country at this point. My guess is that in the short term the Kurds will settle for de facto independence while refraining from an official declaration of secession. If they can get a cut of the oil money and autonomy they can avoid a confrontation with the United States over an officially declared secession. But the Kurds are biding their time and may yet secede once US forces withdraw.

Even the Shiite region has deep splits. Rival Shiite militias battled for a few days last week.

Trouble in the south began when supporters of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr tried to reopen his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, which was closed after the end of fighting there last year.

When Shiites opposed to al-Sadr tried to block the move, fights broke out. Four people were killed, 20 were injured and al-Sadr's office was set afire, police said.

That enraged al-Sadr's followers, who blamed the country's biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq or SCIRI, for the Najaf trouble.

Sadr's supporters recently demonstrated against draft constitution/peace treaty. If Sadr's Mahdi Army reconstitutes and the Sunnis reject the offered oil money sharing peace deal then the civil war will just continue on.

Sadr's enemies want him banished.

NAJAF, Iraq -- More than 1,000 Shiite Muslim demonstrators clashed last night with supporters of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, leaving at least seven people dead and dozens wounded, according to officials at a local hospital.

Waving banners demanding the "expulsion of the outsiders," the crowd gathered near the Shrine of Ali -- a holy site for Shiites -- to call on the provincial governor to banish Sadr's Mahdi Army. Many residents of Najaf blame Sadr for heavy damage the city sustained during a Mahdi Army uprising against U.S. forces a year ago.

On the bright side some Sunnis in Ramadi defended their Shiite minority against Zarqawi's warriors.

BAGHDAD, Aug. 14 -- Rising up against insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, Iraqi Sunni Muslims in Ramadi fought with grenade launchers and automatic weapons Saturday to defend their Shiite neighbors against a bid to drive them from the western city, Sunni leaders and Shiite residents said. The fighting came as the U.S. military announced the deaths of six American soldiers.

Dozens of Sunni members of the Dulaimi tribe established cordons around Shiite homes, and Sunni men battled followers of Zarqawi, a Jordanian, for an hour Saturday morning. The clashes killed five of Zarqawi's guerrillas and two tribal fighters, residents and hospital workers said. Zarqawi loyalists pulled out of two contested neighborhoods in pickup trucks stripped of license plates, witnesses said.

Iraq is now effectively broken up into a set of mini-states controlled by rival militia warlords. But if the central government can maintain control of the oil money it can use the power to hand out oil money to buy some allegiances. The crucial role of oil money in buying allegiance of factions to the center means that Ahmad Chalabi's control of the oil fields means Chalabi might be in the position to decide whether Iraq remains a single country.

Update: I have a basic question with regard to the constitution/peace treaty: Do the people who are negotiating the peace treaty represent enough of the warring factions to make a peace treaty that will end most of the fighting? At minimum, will the deal at least bring enough of the right warring factions onto the side of the government so that government money could go toward funding these factions to go suppress the other factions that continue to fight?

In other words: Is a negotiated peace even possible at this stage?

I see one problem with the "oil cash for peace" formula: Iraq's oil production is still lower than it was under Saddam. Does current production supply enough money to hand out to buy loyalty to a peace deal?

Iraqi oil production bounces around as facilities get blown up and repaired. But assume 2 million barrels per day of production (I'm being optimistic though not as optimistic as the Panglossian war camp). Also assume $60 per barrel (and I remember war hawks who claimed the war would lower the price of oil and thereby pay for itself). At that price we are talking $120 million per day or $43 billion per year. Divided over a population of 26 million people that works out to about $1653 per person per year.

Could that amount of money buy peace? Some of the money goes toward subsidizing food prices, electric prices, gasoline prices, and assorted government services including the military. Some goes to assorted corrupt officials whose Swiss bank accounts are no doubt swelling. Does that leave enough money to buy peace? Do the people in power possess the skill and motives to use the money to buy peace? I'm skeptical.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 August 29 12:33 AM  Mideast Iraq

Bob Badour said at August 29, 2005 4:51 PM:

I wonder what important difference separates anarchy from the US rule of Iraq?

FriendlyFire said at August 30, 2005 1:28 AM:

The President HAILED the new consitution as a victory for democracy and freedom
Its ovious mistakes were made early on. Now it becoming ovious to everyone that this has cascaded into the situation we see today.

Not to worry
They will RIG the referundum on the Iraq consistution

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