The Sunday LA Times (print edition) has a report that the Sunni negotiators have presented a series of amendment proposals and that Ali Dabagh of the main Shiite party, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) said:
There is no D-Day. Negototiations can continue until Ocober 15.
An update at the Times website reports that talks on these amendments had collapsed, and that the draft was being sent to the National Assembly. Nonetheless, the story reiterates that negotiations could be resumed and continue up to the referendum:
“They told us that we can work till Oct. 15,” said Suha Azzawi, among the Sunni negotiators on the panel. “We felt that there is a possibility during the debates to change some articles.”
I must admit to being surprised at this claim that the draft could be changed right up to the date of the referendum. As a legal matter, I don’t see how that can be, because voters need to know that they are voting on a specific text that has been circulated ahead of the vote. However, as a pratical political matter, this comes as welcome news that talks may continue, and it is not as though very many voters are going to read and ponder the draft anyway. Unfortunately, most will just follow the instructions of some elite that they trust from within their community (and that is not just in Iraq; that is how rational voters behave anywhere, or so many political science studies say).
I think that two developments over the last few days may have helped spur this willingness to go on talking even as no agreement was crafted before the drafting committee decided to go ahead and present the draft to the Assembly. One is that the Sunnis turned out to be more united than the UIA anticipated, and the other is that their own Shiite community turned out to be more divided than they expected.
First on the Sunnis. The article in the LA Times Sunday print edition that I referred to above notes:
Saturday, Iraq’s largest Sunni Arab political party and a group of Sunni government ministers rallied to the support of the 15 [Sunni co-opted members of the drafting committee], proposing changes to the draft constitution virtually identical to those demanded by Sunni Arabs on the panel.
As I noted on Wednesday, Humam Hammoudi, the chairman of the drafting commission had previously disparaged the Sunnis on the committee as not being representative because they were not elected. Well, the development reported by the Times confirms that they are representing the views of the legislative leaders who would have been elected if not for the boycott in January.
Meanwhile, as The Christian Science Monitor‘s headline on August 26 put it, Iraq’s Shiites split violently. The story notes that there are many grievances being raised by Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in these clashes with the UIA-allied Badr Brigade, but one of the issues is federalism.
Thus there is unified opposition by the Sunnis against federalism (at least as that is currently understood in Iraq) while there is not unified support for federalism within the majority Shiite community.
These twin developments may be what is spurring the parties to say they will keep on talking.
But here is a question: Why would the Sadr forces be opposed to the ‘federal’ provisions of the constitution? The only reason I can think of is that it is a wedge with which to battle the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (a main component of the UIA whose miltia is the Badr Brigade) for supremacy among Shiites. But is there an objective reason beyond intra-communal competition? I don’t know.