October 25, 2005


Sunnis Failed to Defeat Iraq Constitution (John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, 10/26/05)

The constitutional referendum was approved by 78 percent of voters, with 21 percent -- mostly Sunni Arabs -- rejecting it, according to tallies announced by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. The results confirmed widely reported preliminary estimates showing that the referendum had passed.

In Anbar province, 96 percent voted against the referendum, and 81 percent rejected it in Salahuddin. But in the key swing province of Nineveh, 56 percent voted against the constitution -- about 10 percent short of the number necessary to kill it.

About 63 percent of Iraq's 15.5 million registered voters cast ballots, the commission reported.

The results underscored the deep divisions along ethnic and sectarian lines in Iraqi society -- a condition that has fueled a violent Sunni-led insurgency against the government and U.S. occupation forces.

Shiite Arabs, who account for about 60 percent of Iraq's population, overwhelmingly favored passage of the constitution, which formalizes the country as a parliamentary democracy with Islam as the source of its laws. Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of the population, also strongly embraced the charter, which grants far-reaching autonomy to their region in northern Iraq.

But leading figures among Sunni Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of the population, were split over the constitution.

So, 63 percent of registered voters participated in the election, 78 percent of those voters approved of the constitution, Shiites and Kurds supported the constitution overwhelmingly, and there was division among "leading figures among Sunni Arabs" (who account for 20% of the population) who nonetheless turned out heavily to vote -- and the writer concludes there are deep ethnic and sectarian divisions in Iraqi society?

That doesn't seem like the most accurate characterization.

Posted by kevin_whited at October 25, 2005 11:51 PM

Given the results in Anbar and Salahuddin, it seems that probably >90% of Shia and Kurds voted for the constitution, and >90% of Sunni Arabs voted against it. Perhaps a few Sunni "leaders" were split, but it doesn't seem that the Sunni Arab rank-and-file was.

So how, exactly, is there not a deep ethnic and sectarian division?

Posted by: Glaivester at October 26, 2005 4:01 AM

Deep devision would be Shiites disagreeing internally, and Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis all disagreeing. Deep division would also be Sunnis blowing the hell out of the country (and Kurds and Shiites) instead of voting in unexpectedly large numbers.

The WaPo characterization is overly broad and doesn't fit the reported facts as well as good writing should have.

Posted by: kevin whited at October 26, 2005 7:23 AM

Look, the Iraqi constitutional convention adopted rules for the ratification plebicite. We have ethnic blocs that vote in bunches, so there is really nothing to see here.

Foreign and domestic enemies may characterize success as failure as they wish, but in the last analysis, the constitution will have succeeded in its own terms and what will follow will be law enforcement.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 26, 2005 7:26 AM

My guess is if we held a referendum on our current constitution it wouldn't get much better than 78%, with most of the no votes concentrated in distinct "groups". I suppose democracy is lost cause here as well.

Posted by: pat at October 26, 2005 7:45 AM

"Ratification is the sound of inevitability, Mr. Anderson."

Posted by: Luciferous at October 26, 2005 10:24 AM

"Deep devision would be Shiites disagreeing internally"

That would not be a deep sectarian and ethnic division; a deep ethnic and sectarian division is a division between different groups.

"and Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis all disagreeing."

On a constitutional plebiscite, you can't have all three groups disagreeing, as there are only two choices, yes or no. One group can vote yes, another no, but the third would have to vote yes or no, thus agreeing with one of the other groups.

Posted by: Glaivester at October 26, 2005 10:37 AM

The choice of punchline is odd, however you want to dress it up. Your dressing it up, however, does neglect the possibility of one group refusing to participate in the plebiscite, and it assumes that Shiism is monolithic and therefore not subject to sectarianism. That's overly simplistic.

To get at this slightly differently: Did professional journalists similarly cover post-apartheid South Africa by focusing on the deep ethnic and sectarian divisions as represented by the white minority?

Of course not. It's almost beside the point.

Posted by: kevin whited at October 26, 2005 11:14 AM