Iraq's Sunnis: Still Wallflowers?

A critic of the Iraq war, Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, came away from a visit there this week with hope about its democracy. The Sunnis, some of whom back the insurgency, appear ready to vote on a proposed constitution, he found.

Winning over that minority Islamic group, which held power for most of the 20th century until Saddam Hussein's ouster, is critical to ending the attacks that are eroding American support for US troops in Iraq. Most insurgents are Sunni, and few Sunnis voted in the Jan. 30 election that created an interim government.

An Iraqi civil war between Sunnis and the dominant Shiites - which is exactly what Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is trying to spawn - may be emerging. Halting that trend requires Shiite leaders to be more open to Sunni demands for minority rights in a new constitution.

So far, many Sunni leaders have been rejected for membership in the committee charged with drafting a constitution by Aug. 15. But on Tuesday, after weeks of delay, 15 Sunnis were accepted. Whether they represent a broad segment of Sunnis and can work with the committee is still uncertain.

This momentum for Sunni participation in politics was helped along by a call from a major religious organization, the Sunni Endowment, urging its followers to vote on the constitution. The vote is slated for Oct. 15.

Coming to grips with the reality that they are in the minority won't be easy for Sunnis. And it may be equally difficult for Shiites not to lord it over their historic religious rivals and tormentors. But forgiveness by Shiites, and a common will to see all Iraqis as Iraqis - and as democratic citizens - will help bring peace.

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