Why Iraq's Sunnis fear constitution
Parliament is likely to approve the constitution by Thursday's deadline, despite Sunni objections.
With the clock ticking down on Iraq's constitutional negotiations, the question everyone wants answered is what, if anything, can be done to satisfy Sunni Arab demands?Skip to next paragraph
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Probably not much, but that's unlikely to stop Iraq's parliament from approving the constitution by Thursday's deadline, said Humam Bakr Hamoudi, a Shiite politician and chairman of the constitutional drafting committee.
Sunnis oppose changing Iraq from a strong central state to a loose federal one. But satisfying the Sunnis, a religious minority in Iraq, on this would anger ethnic Kurds and Shiite Arabs who have written the draft.
Sunnis worry that federalism will only strengthen the hands of the Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north, while denying them a share of Iraq's oil revenue, since the two major oil centers are in the north and the south. Sunnis are clustered in the center of Iraq.
But at root of the Sunni rejection of the constitutional process is fear itself. The psyche of this community, from which Saddam Hussein's most fervent supporters were drawn and who enjoyed privileged positions until his regime was toppled, has been badly damaged in the past few years.
Many fears about the new Iraq are expressed throughout Baghdad's Sunni neighborhoods. They fear that Iraq's new masters will punish them for supporting Mr. Hussein's regime; they fear they don't have leaders or social cohesion; and they fear their former status will never be regained.
It's this fear and doubt that feeds their distrust of Iraq's other communities and their desire to see the writing of the constitution delayed.
"We are all afraid. There are reasons for revenge. Anyone can call the Interior Ministry and get someone killed" by calling someone a terrorist, says Souda Mustafa Ali, a Sunni.
Ms. Ali was referring to a ministry that runs the police and is controlled by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a Shiite political party that has its own militia that has been increasingly accused by Sunnis of assassinating members of their community.
Fears about Iran's influence in the government are also pervasive and have sent a flurry of rumors around Sunni communities that are repeated with remarkable sameness and accepted as fact.
"The interior ministry threw out all the Sunnis and won't accept any more. Most of the assassinations these days are done by Badr,'' says Abu Issam, referring to SCIRI's militia, which was trained and supported by Iran in the 1980s and resurfaced here from their exile after the fall of Saddam.
"We feel like we don't exist or are put aside," says one Sunni living in west Baghdad who asked that her name not be used for fear of attack. Her husband was a high ranking official in Hussein's security forces.
"I feel like the Americans after the occupation they supported only the Shiites and they ignore us on purpose. We are part of the Iraqi people."
While there's no reason that Sunni doubts couldn't be eased in the fullness of time, during which the community in general isn't subject to reprisals or abuse, in the draft of the current constitution they see many worrying signs. Federalism is just one of them.