Iraq's new draft constitution falls dangerously short of initial US goals and will likely fuel an increase in violence in the war-battered country, American analysts said.
"It's not a good path we are on right now," said Flynt Leverett, of the Brookings Institution think tank here. "You have a situation now in which one or two things will happen, and both of them are bad."
He said either the minority Sunni Arabs will succeed in mustering a two-thirds majority in three of the country's 18 provinces to sink the charter or will fail and end up feeling disenfranchised and disgruntled.
Either scenario will produce a political crisis, Leverett said. "What we have now is a situation which is the beginning of a countdown to something that will look like civil war in Iraq."
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Sunday declared the draft constitution ready for submission to a national referendum October 15 ahead of elections for a permanent government two months later.
If the majority Shiites and the Kurds celebrated, the Sunnis who ruled Iraq until Saddam Hussein's ouster by US-led troops in April 2003 were left excluded and complaining.
Eager to preserve a strong central government, they rejected charter provisions they said would produce a loose federation with richer Shiite and Kurdish regions but pledged continued efforts to seek a politcal settlement.
For Nathan Brown, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Iraq's civil war has already begun. "The question is only who is participating and to what extent," he told AFP.
"Those who participated in drafting the constitution want the Sunnis right now to register and to vote against it," Brown said. "If they lose and the constitution is adopted, they will probably be discreditated.
He said Sunni leaders with likely ties to the insurgency "will probably feel vindicated, so in that sense, an approval of the constitution could aggravate the situation."
Leverett agreed that moves by Shiites and Kurds to ram through the draft constitution could stiffen the Sunnis and make the situation even more volatile.
"At that point, if anything, it gives a kind of political context for the insurgency, even more than the insurgency has now because then the insurgents become a kind of Sunni resistance."
Analysts agree the US administration is relatively powerless in this situation and has little room for maneouvre.
"They don't have a lot of options," Brown said. "It is possible to reopen constitutional negotiations ... (but) if they were reopened I am not sure that they would end with a different outcome.
"The other possibility would be simply to put a good face on it, to go forward with the constitution as is and try to beat the insurgency militarily," he said.
"But that in the past has not succeeded yet and I am not sure it will be more successful in the future."
President George W. Bush, who personally spoke by telephone with a top Shiite leader last week to urge more concessions to the Sunnis, appeared intent Monday in putting a brave face on the outcome.
Bush said he was "very optimistic" about Iraq's future, even if not everybody agreed with the text of the draft charter.
© 2005 AFP