- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 23, 2005

The recent Iraqi vote on the constitutional referendum represents a huge victory for the beleaguered Bush administration. Most important, it may pave the way for bringing home U.S. troops from Iraq next year. It is now possible that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.

With congressional elections taking place in November 2006, the administration would like nothing better than to begin a significant troop withdrawal before that date. The Oct. 15 vote, which leaves the Iraqi constitution intact and approved, assists in that process because it permits the administration to argue that Iraq now has a viable government. There are another set of elections for the Iraqi National Assembly scheduled for December. It is likely that those will strengthen the nascent Iraqi government struggling to take its first steps.

This is not to say that what we will have in Iraq is the secular democracy with equality for women and active participation by all in the political process that the administration hoped to leave behind when we depart. Rather, the Iraqi political situation is likely to be characterized by sectarian strife and constant violence, as the Sunnis, who are only 20 percent of the population, but who ruled the country for decades, seek a return to the dominant position in Iraq. Those days are over. However, there are many Sunnis who will fight to the death in an effort to restore them.

It makes no sense to feel encouraged by the lack of violence at polling places. The Sunni insurgents wanted their people to vote in order to defeat the constitution. Now that they failed with ballots, they’ll return to violence to disrupt the government.

In addition, the constitution does not create a single Iraqi nation in the sense that the United States had hoped, but rather it establishes a loose federation among Shi’ites, Kurds and the Sunnis. It’s a formula for disagreement and division. In this structure, the Sunnis not only have a minority position in terms of exercising power, but they also control the land which doesn’t have the oil. The oil-rich areas are the Shi’ite provinces in the south and the Kurdish provinces in the north. However, the Sunnis have the guns, as well as the officers, and many of the best fighters in Saddam Hussein’s army. The Sunni insurgency is likely to continue at the same time that the political process moves forward.

Notwithstanding the fluidity in Iraqi politics and the continued violence, the administration will be able to state early next year that we have created a stable Iraqi government. We can declare victory and begin bringing our troops home. Call it a fig leaf if you prefer. Or call it pragmatic politics — accepting the most that we can hope for given the realities of Iraqi political life.

Moreover, as a result of the Oct. 15 vote, the withdrawal of U.S. troops is likely to receive a boost from the Iraqis themselves. The Sunni politicians have been demanding that the United States withdraw all of its troops immediately. Until the vote, those Sunnis didn’t participate in the mainstream Iraqi government. Now that they have recognized their foolishness in boycotting the process and have decided to participate it is likely that they will press their demand for U.S. withdrawal on the entire Iraqi government.

This will place Shi’ite and Kurdish leaders in a very difficult situation. Will they dare to take the position that they want the United States, a non-Muslim occupier, to remain and control their country? A more likely scenario is that Shi’ites and Kurds will not dissent when faced with Sunni demands for U.S. withdrawal. In fact, this may be the only major agreement among the three communities.

The Shi’ites for their part can look to neighboring Iran if they need additional military assistance to control the Sunni insurgency once the United States pulls out its troops. This isn’t a happy scenario for the United States. However, we’ll have to accept the fact that there will be coordination and cooperation between the two Shi’ite-controlled governments.

While all of these signs point toward a likely U.S. troop withdrawal next year, it must be remembered that this is the Middle East. Rarely do events proceed on a rational or logical basis. Hopefully, the light at the end of the tunnel will not be a train bearing down on us.

Allan Topol is a lawyer and the author of several novels, including the bestseller “Enemy of My Enemy.”

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