- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Eventually, all wars end. One lasted 100 years, another 100 hours. At some stage, the insurgency in Iraq too will sputter and expire. The question is when. By most accounts, including the Department of Defense’s, “when” means considerably in the future. But suspend disbelief for a moment.

Suppose this weekend’s vote in Iraq to approve a constitution produces a political effect as astonishing as last year’s tsunami that amazingly induced the Indonesian government and the rebel province of Aceh to reach a ceasefire. Suppose the vote takes the oxygen out of the insurgency. Would such a tectonic event lead to the results promised by the Bush administration for a democratic Iraq? And would a whole, democratic Iraq be sustained by a government made legitimate by the ballot box in which the rights of minorities were protected and the rule of law assured? The simple answer is no.

The reasons show why bringing freedom and democracy to that part of the world is an exceedingly difficult if not unworkable aim and why measuring success in terms of military action is less relevant. For democracy to succeed in Iraq and the centrifugal forces that could fracture the country to be contained, it is important to understand the obstacles blocking the way.

First, whether Iraqis approve the constitution or not, as with all constitutions and our own in particular, there are inherent contradictions, flaws and gaps that must be reconciled by the ensuing political process and by the new government. In our Constitution, for example, it took a civil war to resolve the clash between states’ and federal rights and powers. And Americans still do not vote directly for their president, as the 2000 election reminded us.

Within the Iraqi constitution, contradictions, flaws and gaps abound. The balance of power between the provinces and the central government has not been well-defined. With the degree of federalism and central control in question, will a new government be capable of striking a politically acceptable balance between regions seeking autonomy and the need for some control by the center? The conflicts among Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds, exacerbated by the insurgency, remain huge impediments and obstructions. Even if the insurgency stopped tomorrow, these obstacles and realities remain intense and resistant to resolution.

Second, the relationships between sharia (religious) and civil law are unsettled. The constitution gives both priority. But the region where one lives will dominate which law will prevail over the other. The Shi’ite south is rapidly becoming a fundamentalist state. Sharia law will dominate there. The same is not true in other regions. Hence administration of law will not be consistent throughout Iraq, provoking further challenges for the central government and contributing to centrifugal forces that could partition the country.

Third, division of oil revenues has not been determined. The Kurdish north and the Shi’ite south contain virtually all of Iraq’s oil reserves. The Sunni center does not. Given the tensions over federalism and Saddam’s legacy of harsh minority Sunni rule, ending hostility and resentment among the various religious and ethnic groups even if the insurgency stops cannot happen quickly. Human nature is not that forgiving.

Finally, in light of these issues, the role of women in society also requires careful definition. That 25 percent of the seats in parliament are reserved for women is a good start and something that has yet to happen in the United States in terms of the percent of female members of Congress. But beyond that, the mechanisms for defining and legitimizing the role of women are by no means obvious. And in a state that has no experience in democracy other than the past two years, the absence of government and public mechanisms to deal with these political issues fairly, consistently and effectively adds another serious obstacle to making democracy work.

Returning to reality, the insurgency is not going to dissipate soon. As Gens. John Abizaid and George Casey testified to Congress last week, there is every reason to anticipate a spike in violence coinciding with the elections as insurgents try to disrupt the vote with a variety of horrific terror tactics.

The Bush administration has begun to admit the immense and formidable challenge posed by rebuilding and democratizing Iraq. The expectation is that the training and fielding of Iraqi security forces is beginning to pay off. As those forces grow in numbers and ability, the logic insists that the insurgency will gradually falter.

The insurgency, however, is not the critical factor in determining Iraq’s fate. The outcome of a free and whole Iraq will rest on how well or badly Iraqis resolve these political contradictions and ambiguities. The question to ask is what the United States can do, if anything, to facilitate that process and ensure a favorable outcome. Or is it too late?

Harlan Ullman is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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