- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2005

Today’s referendum on a new constitution is a critical step in Iraq’s transition from decades of repression to representative government. Its predicted ratification will be another powerful statement that the majority of Iraqis prefer democratic government to the violence of foreign terrorists and diehard Saddamists.

In a recent article in the New York Review of Books, Ambassador Peter W. Galbraith wrote: “The [Iraqi] constitution has many flaws, but it provides a peace plan that might work, and it is therefore the most positive political development in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein from power.” We agree.

The proposed Iraqi constitution resolves sectional conflicts with a federalist system, combines respect for Islam with clear grants of human rights, and provides a mechanism for resolving other sectional disputes — including fights over oil revenues — with a balance of national and regional power.

As important as the document itself is the historic process that produced it. Eight million Iraqis came out to vote for national, provincial and regional assemblies in January.

The elected National Assembly then produced this constitution in September after a lengthy drafting process, which engaged the Shi’ite, Kurd and Sunni political leadership in difficult negotiations. It wasn’t always an attractive process but certainly much better than violent confrontation and civil war.

Many of Iraq’s Sunnis boycotted January’s National Assembly vote and are now disappointed with the draft constitution. But they are expressing their disappointment with a very aggressive voter registration campaign, not by resorting to violence.

And just this week, Shi’ite and Kurdish leaders promised a commission would be formed in the next National Assembly to revisit and revise the constitution if necessary — giving Sunnis another chance to play a larger role in building a new nation, and prompting Sunni leaders to urge their supporters to vote “yes” in the referendum.

Sunnis are now expected to join with Shi’ites and Kurds in today’s referendum and to vote in strong numbers. And regardless of how they vote, their voting will make them fuller participants in Iraq’s new democracy, which can draw more Sunni insurgents away from violence and into politics.

Whatever the referendum results, the democratic process will continue. If Iraqis approve the constitution, they will vote in December for a permanent government to serve four years. If the constitution is rejected, Iraqis will next vote instead for another transitional National Assembly that will produce another constitution for popular consideration next October.

In either case, the Sunnis will be more involved. That will further separate them from the al Qaeda-associated terrorists led by Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Recent polling by the Iraqi Center for Development and International Dialogue found nearly 80 percent favor the new constitution, including more than half of those in Sunni provinces. Director Mehdi Hafedh told Reuters news agency his findings show “the Iraqi people want to finalize the political process as soon as possible”; they want to establish “a normal government and institutions” and the violence to end.

For Iraqis, this constitutional referendum is a huge step toward building a true democracy. It is important to remember they would not have had this opportunity if U.S. and coalition forces had not overthrown Saddam Hussein. Nor could they now — without our military presence — provide the security needed to take advantage of this opportunity to govern themselves.

And we Americans have a continued national-security interest in helping the Iraqi people stabilize their country, and push back the Islamist terrorists who attacked us on September 11, 2001, and who will do so again unless we stop them.

The Iraqi constitution is a symbol of the progress Iraq has made in achieving self-determination and, taken together with the January election results, is strong evidence a free and democratic Iraq is possible and deserves our support.

Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, are honorary co-chairmen of the Committee on Present Danger, a bipartisan education and advocacy group committed to fighting terrorism and the ideologies that drive it.


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