Regardless of the result of the Iraqi people's vote on the constitution on 15 October, the reality is that it is a failed document, reflective of a failed process. A rejection would, in fact, represent a liberating moment for the decision-makers in Washington and London, enabling them to chart a new course free from the past.
Many observers, including some senior US and British military officers, concede that the presence of American and British troops is having a negative effect on Iraq's domestic situation, and the sooner they are withdrawn, the better. The issue is how to manage such a withdrawal without setting off a chain of events leading to even more chaos. Many feel that the adoption of the draft constitution represents such a circumstance, but this is a false hope. There are forces at play in Iraq that cannot be ignored and which, if the draft constitution passes, will be outside the control of either the US or Britain.
First and foremost is the radical, pro-Iranian elite governing Iraq today. Iraq's President, Jalal Talabani, is decidedly pro-Iranian, having fought on the side of Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. Ibrahim al-Jafaari, the Prime Minister, is the leader of the Dawa Party, which was based in Iran and had a strong tendency to embrace the tactics and tools of terror. Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, one of the strongest behind-the-scenes players, heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), as well as its military arm, the Badr Brigade, all organized, equipped, paid for and directed by Iran. This clique, mostly radical Islamic in nature, does not represent the will of the Iraqi people, even of the Shia, but rather the vision of its masters in Tehran. A positive vote for the draft constitution will only empower it, a result that will guarantee civil war.
There are other powers to be reckoned with. The fall of Saddam Hussein, combined with the West's embrace of the pro-Iranian elite, has disenfranchised the Sunni minority. De-Baathification policies, combined with aggressive military actions against Sunni tribal areas, have created a situation in which a once pro-West, largely secular group has shifted towards radical Wahhabism, the form of virulent anti-Western Islam preached by Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'ida. Moreover, the Sunni believe the draft constitution gives them a raw deal, seeing its federal nature as an arrangement that will cut their access to important natural resources. If it is passed, the situation with the Sunni will worsen, creating a festering wound that will feed future generations of terrorists.
There is a viable exit strategy: the gradual withdrawal of US and British troops, with a policy to re-enfranchise the Sunni population, strengthen the hand of the Kurds and Shia outside the sphere of influence exerted by Iran, and disenfranchise the pro-Iran elite. There will, of course, need to be a guiding hand, which cannot be American or British. The European Union, Arab League and United Nations could all play a role in this, an effort each would support if only the US and Britain would let them. To date, these two nations, and more so the United States, have been loath to allow other parties to trespass on issues pertaining to Iraq. Only these countries, so the thinking went in Washington and London, had earned the right - through sacrifice, in removing Saddam and dealing with the occupation - to be involved.
Now that this sacrifice is no longer deemed a price worth paying, perhaps the time has come for other nations to become involved in Iraq's future.
Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, is author of Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of America's Intelligence Conspiracy, published this month.
© 2005 The Independent