- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Images of Sunni women registering for next month’s constitutional referendum spoke volumes about the likely outcome of Iraq’s march toward democratic self-government.

While the news here about completion of Iraq’s draft constitution has emphasized Sunni opposition to some provisions, principally its federalism, the lines seeking to register for the Oct. 15 vote on this historic document tell a different story: Iraqis — Shi’ites and Sunnis alike — eager to approve the next step in what Iraqi President Jalal Talabani calls the struggle “for democracy and freedom.”

Photos beamed round the world last week of head-covered Sunni women in registration lines, in a Sunni mosque no less, sent an inspiring signal of their eagerness to vote on the new document, even as negotiations were at risk of breaking down.

In the end, after a few weeks’ delay, a constitution was hammered out to the relief of most Iraqis, despite disgruntlement among Sunnis on the drafting body. Its completion was not only a victory for the Iraqis, who in body counts alone have borne the brunt of the bloody insurgency, but also for the Bush administration efforts to plant the flag of democracy in the midst the world’s terrorist breeding ground.

While gloomy armchair analysts here spoke of the obstacles to come and gave a million reasons for failure, Mr. Bush this week spoke of his reasons for “optimism about Iraq because first of all I believe deep in everybody’s soul is the desire to be free.”

Indeed, we have good reasons to be even more optimistic about Iraq’s future now because the draft constitution, whatever its inadequacies, will be approved overwhelmingly next month, clearing the way for election of a constitutional government on Dec. 15. Who says the constitution will be approved? None other than key Sunni leaders themselves.

Ghazi Yawar Ghazi Yawar, highest-ranked Sunni Arab in Iraq’s provisional government, said Monday, whatever the opposition, it would not prevent adoption of the governing document.

Two-thirds of all voters would be needed in at least three provinces to defeat the constitution and that won’t happen in the current environment. “I think it will be extremely hard to defeat,” Mr. Yawar said. “That’s why I think we [the Sunnis] have to aim at the next elections. Whoever feels grievance now has to work harder in order to be in” the new government.

Sunni opponents are most worked about the constitution’s federalist system, giving self-governing rights to certain regions, particularly the southern oil-rich Shi’ite region comprised of nearly half of Iraq’s provinces.

I think Iraq’s government needs a strong central authority to fight and eliminate the insurgents, but after the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and his bloodthirsty rule, the desire for a more decentralized federalist system is certainly understandable. Sounds like the states’ rights provisions the Founding Fathers put into our Constitution.

Clearly we are winning the political battle against the terrorists in Iraq. They have sown a path of death, destruction and fear across the country, but have been unable to slow or derail the democratic process. The last provisional election proved that, and the Oct. 15 referendum will further underscore their inability to defeat Iraq’s democratic movement.

Terrorist thug Abu Musab Zarqawi has vowed to kill any Sunni who votes for the Constitution. But the force of freedom is much more powerful than Zarqawi’s threats. There are several thousand mostly foreign-born terrorists in Iraq, but there are 25 million Iraqis citizens who want to be free. The odds are stacked against the insurgents.

But can approval of the new constitution and election of a new and permanent government eventually end Iraq’s bloodbath? I think it can and it will. Mr. Yawar’s call for Sunnis to join the democratic movement and become part of the governing process will encourage new parties to form and grow, drawing increasing political participation, mostly among younger, once-disaffected Iraqis.

At the same time, the constitutional vote and the elections to follow will give Iraqis a new birth of self-confidence in their own future. That will surely help boost military and police recruitment, producing a more effective anti-terrorist force.

Zarqawi’s terrorists have shown they have the means to kill many people but have not defeated the one force they hate the most: the desire for individual freedom and self-rule.

That unstoppable force was running at full throttle this week in the heart of the Middle East, thanks to the U.S. military that toppled two of the world’s worst terrorist regimes. There is no turning back now.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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