Stay Politically Engaged, US Urges Iraq's Sunnis
Stay Politically Engaged, Amb. Khalilzad Urges Iraq's Sunnis
Says United States, United Nations ready to facilitate constructive dialogue
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington - U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has appealed to Iraq's Sunni Arabs not to abandon the political process in the national referendum debate over the draft constitution and the subsequent elections.
"[I]n particular, I want to address the Sunni Arabs of Iraq, that they need to look carefully at this document. Every effort has been made to protect their rights and the rights of all Iraqis," Khalilzad said in a press conference in Baghdad August 28.
Khalilzad spoke after Iraq's Transitional National Assembly earlier the same day had approved a draft constitution, which is scheduled to be submitted to Iraqi voters for approval or rejection in a referendum October 15. The referendum is to be followed by elections for a permanent National Assembly in December.
The ambassador said terrorists and extremists, who are operating mainly in the Sunni areas in the center of Iraq, likely will try to disrupt the referendum and the elections.
FEDERALISM REMAINS A POINT OF CONTENTION
Khalilzad said the Sunni Arab members of the constitutional drafting committee opposed the draft constitution because of federalism more than any other issue.
"The Sunni Arab representatives generally argued that there should be no reference in the constitution to federalism," he said. "They believed that federalism means fragmentation."
Khalilzad urged the Sunni Arabs to make their views known in public debate before the coming elections.
"Now the responsibility for the federalization law is in the hands of the next assembly. What a good platform they have! They could say to the Iraqis, they will argue against federalization in the next assembly, then they could make it extremely hard for federalization to take place. 'Why not elect us -- go as an anti-federalist candidate?' Stand as an anti-federalist candidate," the ambassador said.
Khalilzad said there are rules and procedures for how laws are written and made, and if a majority in the next Assembly is against moving forward with federalization, then they will have in effect stopped it.
"If that is the will of the Iraqi people, there is a path to do it, and that path has been enshrined," he said.
The ambassador urged the Sunni Arabs to take a close look at a federalist form of government because he said it possesses benefits for them.
"[T]hey can control their own area and limit the influence or domination of the majority," he said. "[T]here is a path, a way to influence this, to share this, but that requires political participation, remaining engaged and not choosing the path of self-isolation, and allowing extremism, terror and war to dominate their region."
IRAQ HAS ACHIEVED MUCH IN A SHORT TIME
Khalilzad said that some Sunni Arabs have indicated that they realize that they must stay engaged in the political process and avoid making the same mistake that the Iraqi Shi'as made in the 1920's when the Shi'as boycotted elections and allowed the Sunni Arabs to dominate political control of the country until the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
The ambassador said that establishment of a constitution is an arduous process requiring difficult compromises, and already Iraqi representatives have achieved a great deal in a short time.
He said the constitutional process in Iraq is moving more quickly than in the United States at the end of the 18th century.
"It took a long time in some places to get the [U.S.] Constitution ratified; one of the states, Rhode Island, was called rogue island for a while, because it would not ratify the Constitution, and New York had to threaten it for the Constitution to be ratified," he said.
"They [Sunni Arabs] should not listen to their enemies, who may want to get them to opt out of the political process, to go towards violence and war," he said.
Khalilzad said the consequences of continued conflict for the Sunni Arabs will be an exodus of educated and wealthy people out of the Sunni areas.
"They become refugees, so their best people will leave the area. Education will suffer, reconstruction will suffer, extremism will dominate, and their enemies, or their rivals will benefit," he added.
The Sunni Arabs, who constitute about 20 percent of the Iraqi population, dominated Iraq under the regime of Saddam Hussein and his Ba'athist Party. They generally boycotted the elections in January for seats in the Transitional National Assembly. The transitional assembly now is dominated by Iraqi Shi'as, who constitute about 60 percent of the population, and by Iraqi Kurds, who account for about 15 percent.
Khalilzad said the United States, the United Nations and other friends of Iraq are prepared to provide whatever help they can to facilitate constructive dialogue and discussion for the Iraqi groups. He said the multinational forces and Iraqi forces are laying plans to provide security for the referendum and elections.
He said the struggle in Iraq is part of a much bigger struggle about the future of the Middle East. He said that if Iraq succeeds, it will transform the entire region, given how important Iraq is in location, size and resources.