- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2005

The U.S. quagmire in Iraq resembles a second edition of the Vietnam War debacle in the preparations for an exit.

On Jan. 23, 1973, the United States concluded a cease-fire agreement with North Vietnam to justify a complete withdrawal of American troops and to secure a “decent interval” before the conquest of South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese flagrantly violated the Paris Peace Accords, conquered the South in 1975, and forced the U.S. into a humiliating evacuation of troops and civilians. The grim sequel featured millions of boat people fleeing oppression and more millions of Cambodians exterminated in Pol Pot’s genocide.

As in Vietnam, the United States searches for a pretense to slash or eliminate U.S. troops in Iraq irrespective of an ineluctable grim aftermath. The obvious can no longer be denied. Iraq lacks the culture, traditions and shared values necessary to forge a secular, democratic and unified nation. It is doomed to splinter and to convulse along ethnic and sectarian fault lines: Kurds against Turkmen and Arabs; Shi’ites against Sunnis; secularists against the mosque.

President George W. Bush has fixed on the Iraqi constitution as the umbrella for withdrawing U.S. troops and proclaiming a bogus American victory. Last Saturday in a radio address, President Bush insisted Pollyannishly: “Iraqis are taking control of their country, building a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. And we’re helping Iraqis succeed.” Abandoning the role of interested spectator, Mr. Bush dispatched U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilad to intercede in the finalizing of Iraq’s constitution, a tangible sign of ostensible progress.

But whatever the constitution declares and whenever it becomes effective, Iraq will not remain unified. Neither ethnic nor religious minorities will be protected. Ayatollahs and mullahs will predominate in a rump Shi’ite state. And personal fiefdoms will prevail in Kurdistan under Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talibani. Culture, economics and history are far more decisive than a constitution in determining national destiny and individual freedoms. The United States is emblematic.

The United States Constitution was enthusiastically ratified in state conventions by people with strong common bonds and democratic experiences, i.e., white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Despite that national protoplasm, parochial economic interests sparked secessionist sentiments in New England in 1815 and in South Carolina in 1832. The Civil War erupted in 1861 over slavery. Secession was attempted despite its unconstitutionality. The Preamble speaks of “We the people of the United States” not “We the States of the United States.”

Iraq’s centrifugal forces are a thousand-fold greater than the fissures that earlier bedeviled the United States. Iraqi Kurds covet an independent state. They fight for a constitution that would acknowledge a right to secede and dominate oil-rich Kirkuk at the Turkmen and Arabs’ expense. They deplore Islamic law. They have enjoyed 14 years of de facto independence. Power is never surrendered in the Middle East voluntarily.

Arabs and Kurds have caused Turkmen to suffer terribly since Iraq’s founding. Legal protections have been more honored in the breach than in the observance. Turkmen have been marginalized in drafting the constitutional and in the incumbent government. They are disinclined to accept second-class status in Kirkuk, where Turkmen have historically predominated.

Rich oil resources in the south have fueled Shi’ite sentiment for an independent state. Shi’ites were brutally killed and maltreated by Sunnis during Saddam Hussein’s despotism. The Islamic rivals are mutually suspicious. A signature of the Iraqi insurgency has been suicide bombings of Shi’ites by Sunni extremists. Sunnis suspect Shi’ites of loyalty to Iran and of ambitions for the rule of mullahs.

The Iraq constitution proposes to paper over these hydraulic disintegrating forces by enshrining federalism or regional autonomy. But general principles do not decide concrete cases. They will not resolve particular disputes over such fighting issues as oil, militias, customs and immigration, ethnic, religious or gender discrimination, or economic protectionism.

In any event, Iraq’s judiciary lacks the public esteem and reverence needed to elicit compliance with controversial edicts. Even in the United States where the Supreme Court is lionized, President Dwight D. Eisenhower needed the National Guard to enforce desegregation in Little Rock, Ark. Suppose an Iraqi Constitutional Court, reasoning that local militias are illegal armies, directed Kurdistan’s pesh merga to disarm. Who believes the court decree would be obeyed?

Lofty constitutional words without a confluence of values and ambitions are meaningless. Despite the clear purpose and language of the Civil War Amendments, the law was impotent in the United States to protect blacks from white bigotry and lynchings for a century. No matter what plaudits President Bush showers on the Iraqi constitution to justify troop withdrawals, the best that can come from the document is a decent interval before Iraq’s vivisection.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant with Bruce Fein & Associates and the Lichfield Group.

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