World Watch: What now for Iraq's Sunni minority?
Nearly 4 out of 5 voters approved the Iraqi Constitutionbut the 22 percent who said "No" in the referendum come almost exclusively from the Sunni minority, a sign of trouble ahead.
The next step in Iraq's political evolution will be December's parliamentary elections. The Sunnis have already begun both mobilizing turnout and building political coalitions. This activity, as well as their high turnout in the October 15 referendum, is a marked change from their boycott of the January elections. U.S. officials hail the upswing in Sunni political participation as a breakthrough.
But the Sunni minority still harbors a feeling of disenfranchisement. In addition, allegations of fraud in the referendum cast a shadow over the process. This resentment feeds support among the Sunni population for the insurgency: The day before the referendum results were announced, three bombs exploded outside two hotels in central Baghdad, including a huge suicide bomb packed in a cement mixer.
The passage of the Constitution hung on the province of Nineveh, whose population is mixed but mostly Sunni. Under election rules, the Constitution would fail only if two thirds of voters in each of three provinces voted against it. In this case, two Sunni-dominated provinces voted overwhelmingly against the Constitution, but Nineveh had just 55 percent "No" votes.
Alliances are already being formed for the December elections, according to a senior western official. Among the Sunni Arabs, there should be twoone of Sunni Arab Islamists and one of hard-line Sunni "rejectionists," such as politician Saleh al-Mutlaq. "I don't think the rallying together of Sunni groups will offer a quick-fix solution to the insurgency or the violence," says the western official. "It offers the potential for a gradual erosion of support within the Sunni Arab community for the insurgencybut only if they have the confidence that some of their key concerns will be met through the political process."
If a Sunni coalition is elected to the Parliamentor gets enough votes to make it into the cabinetthe coalition will most likely make it a priority to roll back the provisions in the Constitution on federalism and the setting up of regional governments, as well as the allocation of natural resources. The Sunnis are most afraid of Shiites and Kurds putting language into the Constitution that allows them to form independent states within Iraq, leaving the Sunnis with oil-poor regions. To this end, the Sunnis will very likely ask for language that explicitly gives the central government control over natural resources, instead of having the central government work in coordination with regional governments.