The Iraqi Constitution

Despite Approval Major Issues Remain Unresolved

Iraqis have passed their country's new constitution, according to official results from a referendum. In theory the constitution is a step forward, but core questions of power distribution have yet to be resolved, says Michael Lüders

Do you consider the approval of the constitution a success for promoting democracy in Iraq, or do you think it will provoke further insurgency?

Michael Lüders: I'm afraid that the latter will be the case. I mean in theory it is very important that this constitution was approved by the majority of Iraq's population. However it was quite clear that both the Kurds and the Shia population would vote in favour of this constitution whereas in those regions where the Sunnis constitute the majority opposition would be stiff, mainly due to the fact that the Sunnis, the former power brokers in Iraq, lost all of their powers after the toppling of Saddam.

So until now we have not seen any reconciliation process between these various ethnic and religious groups. And although this approval of the constitution is a step forward in terms of institution building, institutions remain very weak in Iraq and the insurgency will undoubtedly continue.

How do you expect the moderate Sunni Arabs to react to the result of this referendum?

Lüders: I think that the moderate Sunnis did understand very well that in the long run it doesn't play to their favour should they really refuse any participation in state-building institutions in Iraq. And for that reason I believe that quite a few moderate Sunnis will even participate in the parliamentary elections that are going to take place in December. However, the pressure of the radicals will be very strong and will remain dangerous for moderate Sunnis to really participate in the political process. Moderate Sunnis do run the risk of being assassinated.

Many Sunnis fear that the constitution would create richer 'mini states' for the Kurds and Shia and leave the Sunni areas of the country in the centre and west of the country impoverished. You think they were right in their fears, do you?

Lüders: I would think so, because when you look at the constitution it becomes apparent that it is really strengthening regional control over the state. In other words: when we talk about the oil income, it is mainly the regions of the country, the Kurdish region in the North an the Shia region in the south, where the oil income is going to be reaped in, whereas the Sunni areas have more or less little say in the contribution of the oil income.

In other words: The central state will become even weaker after the approval of the constitution. It is a part of the constitution to really strengthen the regions to the disadvantage of the state, and therefore it will be even more difficult to go ahead with the constructive state building.

Some last-minute changes were made to the constitution shortly before the referendum was held. Do you think other changes need to be made?

Lüders: Oh, definitely. And this is what the Sunnis were promised. I mean, this was the reason why in the end at least the moderates among the Sunni population did agree to this 'constitution business', so to speak, but there will be amendments. And in fact there will be another referendum held next year in May in order to prove the amendments made by then. However the Sunnis do only have a chance to get their voice heard through the parliament which will be re-elected in December. And even then the Sunnis will remain a minority.

And if the majority, Kurds and Shia, do not approve of Sunni proposals for the reforming of the constitution, then these reforms will not pass. So therefore, in other words: in theory changes are possible, in practice they are very unlikely to be happening.

There has already been a presidential election in Iraq and now we have the referendum on the constitution and of course parliamentary elections are due in December. What is it going to take to persuade the insurgence to end the violence? Will they not be satisfied until the US-lead coalition forces leave the country?

Lüders: I'm afraid so, yes. I mean, we have to see that the insurgency is not really united except on one issue: that’s the disapproval and the hatred of the Western occupation of the country as they see it. They are against American troops, against British troops, against foreign occupiers as they view them. And this is really their common denominator. When we look at their given ideologies and their goals, there is not really much in common, because we are talking about different warlords, different ideologies, different people striving for different purposes.

And therefore: Should the Americans leave, should the British leave, it would then be the hour of truth, so to speak, for the insurgence. Then, at the latest, they have to make public what their demands are. And so far they do not have a political agenda except battling the Americans and the British and those Iraqis who are being seen as collaborators of Western forces.

Interview conducted by Brian Pickering


Michael Lüders studied Islamic sciences, politics and journalism in Berlin. He wrote his PhD on the Egyptian cinema. He produced several documentary films for the German television and was for many years editor for Near and Middle Eastern Affairs for the German weekly Die Zeit. He lives as political advisor, journalist and author in Berlin.

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