Ankara, TURKEY. — In less than four days, Iraqis will vote on their draft constitution. Like the first Saddam Hussein-free election, many thought it would never happen, but it’s real. Amid the bombings and suicide attacks, the new Iraq is moving forward. The question is, where will it go?
In Ankara, senior Turkish government officials say that anything less than success in Iraq will not only affect Iraq’s future, but the entire region. “In Iraq, there is no peace without victory,” President Bush said last week at the National Endowment for Democracy. “We will keep our nerve, and we shall win that victory.” But what exactly is victory in Iraq? Has the strength of the insurgency prompted any concession in terms of Iraq’s territorial integrity, or is dividing it an option now? Some articles of the draft constitution could be interpreted as encouraging its separation rather than its unity.
First, there’s the concept of federalism. Iraq’s citizens have a reputation for being the most educated and secular of the Arab world, but federalism is a new idea for them, and it’s not clear they understand exactly what it is. Given that Americans seemed confused by Mr. Bush’s inability to send troops to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina unless the Gulf Coast governors specifically requested them, it seems a bit unfair to expect Iraqis to know what federalism would mean for them. Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds are jockeying for their respective interests — which could be interpreted as either democracy or a political civil war. “I think they’re still going to have quite a debate about exactly what that [federalism] means,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said.
The Arab nations that opposed the war in Iraq see it a little differently, and seem concerned both that the country will be divided and that an emerging Shi’ite crescent will threaten them all. While British Prime Minister Tony Blair hints that Iran is supporting the insurgency in southern Iraq, Amr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, believes Iraq is close to a civil war. For all the obvious difficulties, it is important to question some interesting legal catches in the draft constitution.
Article 117, Section 2 states that regional authorities can amend federal law when there’s a conflict between it and regional laws “in matters that do not pertain to the exclusive powers of the federal authorities.” Under Chapter Four, those exclusive powers are significantly limited to defense, foreign policy, the budget and the allocation of energy resources. In Iraqi Kurdistan, regional law will trump federal law — a direct contradiction to the American definition of federalism.
Article 117, Section 4 reads, “Offices for regions and provinces are to be established in embassies and diplomatic missions to follow up on cultural, social and local development affairs.” When Barham Salih, the Iraqi planning minister, visited Ankara recently, he said both the Patriotic Union of Iraqi Kurdistan and the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party already have offices in Turkey and are planning to make them a part of the embassy. (The individual states of the United States aren’t represented separately in U.S. embassies; if Iraqi Kurdistan will be separately represented in all foreign capitals, can it aspire to be part of one Iraq, or will it further develop its ethnic division?)
Most importantly, the draft constitution also opens the door to establishing the first Iraqi Shi’ite region, like Iraqi Kurdistan.
Article 115 allows both provisional council members and voters to put the question to a referendum. Iraqi Kurds’ experience could establish a precedent for the Shi’ites, who may try to establish a Shi’ite region in the nine southern provinces that share a border with Iran.
Article 135 guarantees the Kurdish demand to include oil-rich Kirkuk in the Iraqi Kurdistan region no later than December 2007. But those who live in Kirkuk will decide which province it will belong to, and the Shi’ites don’t seem willing to give it to Iraqi Kurdistan. If victory includes an option for a divided Iraq, it won’t be good news in Ankara.
However, I have heard numerous times over the years from senior Turkish officials that an independent Iraqi Kurdistan is not a direct threat to Turkey. But as long as the United States remains silent against the separatist Kurdish terrorists that enter Turkey through Northern Iraq, it is an unknown how it will play out in the future.
As Iraqis take this historic step toward determining their own destiny, Ankara is anxiously watching what the draft constitution means for its neighbor’s territorial integrity and national unity.
Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.