Analysis / Everybody Wants to Satisfy the Sunnis

Zalmai Khalil Zad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and one of the framers of the Iraqi constitution, has experienced many ups and downs in his diplomatic career. However, as someone who once opposed the inclusion of the Sunnis in the Iraqi government, he never imagined himself speaking on behalf of that group in order to obtain their support for the constitution.

Khalil Zad, an American-educated Pakistani, is the person who recommended that Washington support Iran in the Iranian-Iraq war (a suggestion that was rejected by George Shultz), he was the one who handled the contacts between the U.S. government and the Iraqi opposition in exile, and the one who engineered the appointment of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. Now he finds himself going from the Kurds to the Shi'ites and the Sunnis in order to avert a huge embarrassment to his bosses in Washington.

Without Sunni support for the constitution in the referendum scheduled for tomorrow [see today's IHT for more on the referendum], this last stage in the legal process to create the new Iraq is liable to collapse. For the past two days, frantic efforts have been made to obtain agreement from the Kurds and the Shi'ites, who have a decisive majority in the temporary parliament, to permit changes to the new constitution, even after its approval. Most of the Kurdish leadership agreed, as long as any changes are approved by a new referendum. Only some members of the Shi'ite leadership have given their blessing, but they probably will eventually: The Shi'ites realize that without support from the Sunnis, their own base of power will be undermined.

If the Shi'ites give their approval and the referendum is passed, it will in effect make the new constitution a temporary one, as well. It could change within a few months, together with the political agreements obtained to pass it. This brings up the old question of whether tomorrow's referendum is needed, if another will be required within a couple of months. The answer is that the American government wants this referendum, which will at least make it possible to take the next step - parliamentary elections in December, in accordance with the new constitution.

The disagreements over the new constitution point to the weakness of the achievements so far: The presidential and parliamentary elections and the appointment of the new cabinet, achieved through democratic means but tough methods, are being tested by a group that barely participated but can dictate its own terms.

Even if the constitutional and ethnic problems are solved, Iraq still faces the tough job of fighting terror and restoring security. The presumed victory of the constitutional referendum melts away before the bodies lying in Iraq's streets, in the eyes of both Iraqis and Americans. In any event, it will not mark the beginning of the withdrawal of U.S. troops.