September 26, 2005

Relax, Voter Registration Afoot!

John Hinderaker:

This strikes me as rather astonishing good news from Iraq. Haider Ajina writes with a translation of an article that appeared today in Iraq Al-Ghad:

The city of Felujah, part of the Ramadi province (100km west of Baghdad), announced that 70% of its eligible residence have registered to vote in the new constitutional vote, and the general election to follow. Abdul Sattar Al-Jumaily, a Felujah city council member announced in a press conference in Felujah, that the city witnessed a large turn out at the voter registrations stations, we had 70% of eligible voters register. This shows that the city is preparing for the constitutional & the following general elections. Initially we only had four voter registration stations, then (due to overwhelming turn out) each station expanded to four more stations in areas all over Felujah. This led to a high registration of citizens who want to vote about the constitution, which will be the foundation of the elections following it.

Colonel Salah Ghalil Alaani chief of police of Felujah said that the security situation in the city is very stable. "We have over 700 police in stations all over the city. This is a much better situation in which to hold elections. Especially since the local tribal chiefs, religious leaders and the city council have all pledged to protect polling stations."

Seventy percent voter registration compares favorably, I believe, with many American cities. And this is Fallujah, hotbed of the "insurgency"! Good news indeed.

Hinderaker's view would appear rather glib and under-informed, no? Sure, it's nice to see lotsa people registering to vote. But they are likely registering to vote in droves because they are hell-bent on defeating the constitution. True, U.S. diplomats and others are working assiduously on the ground to get more Sunni buy-in for the constitution in the coming weeks. There is always hope they will do a bang up job of it in the coming days. I certainly hope so. But, at best, we've still got our hands full. So why always drearily spin rather than face reality so that we are at least reacting to events with our eye's open rather than deluding ourselves with empty cheer-leading?


West of Baghdad in the restive Sunni city of Ramadi, more than 1,000 people rallied Sunday to protest the constitution, Reuters reported. Sunni Arab leaders have angrily criticized the document and called for Iraqis to vote against it in the referendum, saying its provisions on regional autonomy could cripple Iraq and create an autonomous region in the south that would be dominated by Iran.

Sunni leaders in western and northern Iraq have said they have the support of Mr. Sadr, whose followers have also said they oppose the constitution's federal provisions. But his spokesmen have contended that Mr. Sadr has not taken a position on the document.

The march in Ramadi came a day after thousands of Shiites marched in support of the charter in Basra. On Thursday, Iraq's most senior religious figure, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, indicated that he would release a fatwa, or religious edict, urging Iraqis to vote in favor of the document. That fatwa could provide crucial support for the vote, but appears to have further sharpened the sectarian division over the constitution.

If two-thirds of the voters in any 3 of 18 provinces vote against the constitution, it will be defeated, and a new temporary national assembly will be elected in December to write a new constitution.

The International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization active in Iraq, issued an unusually strong statement saying that the constitution could lead to a civil war unless it was amended before the Oct. 15 referendum. At a minimum, the group said, the constitution must be altered to say that no more than four provinces can become a region through fusion, "to assuage Sunni Arab fears of a Shiite super region in the south."

The way ahead remains full of perils. If the Sunnis are able to muster up a ballot-box defeat of the Constitution, it's back to the drawing-board (at which time the Shi'a and Kurds might lose patience with the process, and decide to do whatever they please). Contra this scenario, if the Sunnis aren't able to muster up enough votes (let's say they can't get 2/3rds in 3 provinces)--well, isn't it pretty likely that will only strenghten the insurgency? There's a third option, of course, that I hinted to above. That we peel away enough moderate Sunnis, ie. get the requisite buy-in, so that the constitution, not only is approved, but also leads to a material weakening of the insurgency. But, and as much as I wish that was how things turned out, I'd put the likelihood of that scenario around thirty or so percent (at least at this somewhat, all told, premature and unsettled juncture). But, for Hinderaker, 70% of Fallujans are geared up to vote! It compares favorably with voter registration rates in the good 'ol US of A (why, we could be in Minnesota even!), and democracy has arrived at the former citadel of the heretofore "insurgency" (Hindrocket quotes the word, as if, what, there isn't one...?)! But what's to worry about? Fallujah is free....rejoice...last throes!

Posted by Gregory at September 26, 2005 02:14 AM | TrackBack (1)

You can have a shot at Hinderaker after the constitutional vote count from Fallujah proves you correct; until then you just come across as a smug a..hole.

Posted by: dubstarr at September 26, 2005 09:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How would the vote count prove or disprove Greg's point that Hinderaker is being glib? Surely comparing voter reg numbers to U.S. voter reg doesn't really say much about whether the constitutional vote will be successful? They're unrelated as far as I can tell...

Posted by: just me at September 26, 2005 10:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Maybe it's because you blog after a tiring day, but I find your ad hominum posts your weakest in terms of logic or effectiveness; e.g. Rumsfeld. Why attack Powerline? Can't they be people of goodwill that have something productive to offer?
I thought we got into this thing to foster a democratic process; if so, what is going to have more long-term significance; the specific percentages of no votes on the Constitution, or the taste of real power this will give the citizens in the privacy of the polling booth?
If the constitution goes back to the drafting committees, and if, IF, Bush is willing to go down to 21% in the approval polls (a la Truman at the end of his term) by continuing to support this effort, I think enough Sunni's will come forward to make an imperfect, but viable, state.

Posted by: wayne at September 26, 2005 12:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If the Sunnis vote no, there is a new election in December, before a new consitution can be drawn up.

Aside from the certiainty of largescale Sunni participation in December, the real question is the vote in the Shia areas. Does the UIA stay together as a bloc? If it does, do Shiites vote it back in, despite their frustrations?

Posted by: liberalhawk at September 26, 2005 04:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There is another possible scenario. The fact that large numbers of Sunni Arabs are protesting the constitution now, does not necessarily indicate they will refuse to accept it once it has passed the referendum. They may vote against it out of a sense of wounded honor, but accept it as a fait a complete after the fact.

The threats of a coming civil war are in large part a "bargaining position", not actual plans of action. After all, if the Sunnis fear what they might lose in a federal Iraq under the constitution, they are smart enough to realize they stand to lose even more in a civil war.

Week after week, the insurgents steadily lose men, assets & territory. Meanwhile, more Sunni tribal groups are distancing themselves from Zarqawi & co. Anyway you slice it, this is not an insurgency that is winning. And treatening a civil war is not a winning strategy.

Posted by: Kenneth at September 26, 2005 05:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, there are five options, not just three:

1: Constitution passes despite solid Sunni opposition. The Sunnis grudgingly accept the Constitution and field candidates in the December elections.

2: Constitution passes despite solid Sunni opposition. The Sunnis boycott the December elections and leave their country to be governed by Shia and Kurds with solid American support. (of course, I guess there's 2a: the Sunnis rise up in open rebellion).

3: The Constitution fails due to solid Sunni opposition. The Kurds and Shia accept the continued governance under the provisions of the TAL, new elections are held in December.

4: The Constitution fails due to solid Sunni opposition. The Kurds and/or Shia do something stupid.

5: The Constitution passes with modest Sunni support.

Personally, I really don't think very many Sunnis will come out for the Constitution--your 30% projection for option 5 is probably overly optimistic. But where you have dug yourself into depression is by forgetting options 1 and 3.

Options 1 and 2:

The Sunnis may be in a position akin to those of the Anti-Federalists of the American Constitution: opposed to it, but willing to work within its framework should they be unable to muster the political power to defeat it. Remember, they are not merely opposing the Constitution, they are opposing the Constitution within the framework of the TAL--and there is evidence to suggest that the Sunnis are prepared to abide by the terms of the TAL, whether in adoption or rejection.

"Boycotting the referendum and parliamentary elections (in December) would be a lose-lose proposition. Our hope will be in the next parliament that will hopefully be more balanced than this one."--Sunni Negotiator Sadoun Zubaydi shortly after the Constitution was passed over Sunni objections,2933,167249,00.html

I think that Sunni powerbrokers understand that open rebellion is suicide and that boycotting the parliamentary election in December should the Constitution be ratified is stupid. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from it, for the Kurds and Shia will govern without them with American support.

Simply put, the fact that Sunnis are registering in droves within the TAL framework--despite that they are doing so to oppose the Constitution--is incredibly good news. The Sunnis are being brought into the political process. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether the TAL's legitimacy will hold: Sunni acceptance if the Constitution passes. I think it will. I regard option 1 as considerably more likely than option 2.

Options 3 and 4:

The question is now whether the Kurds and the Shia will abide by the TAL if they lose the referendum (a possiblity the Tradesports futures market has at around 30%). I am rather more worried about Shia/Kurd stupidity should the Constitution fail than Sunni non-acceptance should it pass; there has been irresponsible Kurd talk of seccession. The key periods will be the two months between referendum and new elections--once the new parliament is in place, the ability to do something stupid and get away with it will be considerably less--and then the risk that talks could break down next year and the Shia/Kurds do something stupid then. I think the US will be able to hold things together between October and December, and then hopefully the situation on the ground by next year might be better to facilitate constitutional negotiations, but there is good cause to worry about option 4.

Here's my personal estimate of the likelihood of each option (accepting the Tradesports estimate, so 1+2+5=70%, 3+4=30%):

1: Constitution pass, Sunni accept: 50%
2: Constitution pass, Sunni reject: 5%
3: Constitution fail, Shia/Kurds accept: 15-20%
4: Constitution fail, Shia/Kurds do something stupid: 10-15%
5: Constitution pass with modest Sunni support: 15%

Posted by: Dan Larsen at September 27, 2005 01:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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