TAMIL NADU

A compromise offers small comfort

The travails of the Iraqi government are far from over even though it has finally succeeded in persuading the country's Sunnis to participate in the drafting of a new constitution. The tribal and religious leaders who made the deal with the government do have standing within the community. Several of them are believed to be closely associated with the Sunni fighters who spearheaded the national resistance against foreign occupation. However, there is no indication that this group has agreed to act as a conduit between the government and those waging the liberation struggle. There is reason to doubt that these leaders are capable of playing such a role; in fact, the resistance intensified during the talks. The constitution-drafting exercise might actually fuel the anger Sunnis feel towards a government made up largely of parties representing Shias and Kurds. The communities do not see eye to eye on issues such as the weight that should be given to Islam as a source of law and the amount of autonomy the provinces should get. The compromise at the core of the agreement could also become a source of trouble. The Sunnis gave up their demand for more seats on the drafting committee than the 15 offered after the government conceded that constitutional provisions would be adopted by consensus, not by majority vote. This looks like a recipe for gridlock. There is very little chance that the constitution will take final shape before the August 15 deadline.

An extension of the deadline is likely to have a cascading effect. It will almost certainly mean a postponement of the referendum on the constitution, scheduled for October, and perhaps even of the general elections to be held in December under the terms of the interim constitution. In that event, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari and his cabinet would come under increasing pressure. While the Iraqi military and police forces are being built up, it could be years before they are strong enough to provide security. The government will continue to depend on the occupying forces for its protection and there is no guarantee that foreign troops will stay on indefinitely. The United States administration is being pressed to reassess its commitments in Iraq. Republican Congressmen who were staunch supporters of the invasion joined Democrats to pass a non-binding resolution in the House of Representatives asking the administration to start planning for a withdrawal of troops. Calls of this nature are likely to multiply if the situation in Iraq does not improve before the Congressional elections of 2006. Recent opinion polls suggest that a majority of the American public does not believe that the administration will achieve its goals in Iraq. This increasingly pessimistic outlook has created a situation in which U.S. military forces are unable to meet monthly recruitment quotas. Iraq looks all set to become a nightmare for George Bush.

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