Iraq's proposed constitution -- and the process used to draft it -- have deepened the divide among Iraq's factions and will likely trigger civil war unless changes are negotiated quickly to accommodate the concerns of Sunni Muslims, warned a new report by the International Crisis Group.
The report comes less than three weeks before an Oct. 15 referendum on Iraq's proposed constitution. The ICG calls on the Bush administration to engage in a "last-ditch, determined effort" to broker a compromise among the country's three largest ethnic and religious groups.
"Unless the flaws of its draft constitution can be corrected in the next few weeks before the Iraqi people vote on it, Iraq is likely to slide toward full-scale civil war and the break-up of the country," says the ICG, an independent, nonprofit nongovernmental organization working to resolve conflict in 50 countries on four continents.
The group charges that the constitution was rushed, which cost the process any possibility of consensus. Critical parts of the constitution -- notably on the federal arrangements that will decentralize power -- are also so vague that they already "carry the seeds of future discord," the report says.
Because Iraq's oil resources are largely in the Shiite south and the Kurdish-dominated north, Sunnis are left feeling marginalized and facing a future in a landlocked region bereft of resources, it said.
"The main danger is that the constitution ratifies and exacerbates the sectarian divisions within the country," Robert Malley, director of ICG's Middle East program, said in an interview yesterday. "Both the process through which it was done and the content are deepening the divide between Kurds and Shiites on one side and the Sunnis on the other. If the constitution is only approved by only two of the three communities, it will only be a confirmation of Iraq's sectarian and ethnic divisions rather than an attempt to overcome them. This has not advanced the process of reconciliation; it . . . more likely is a step backward."
Because the constitution is likely to pass, the report concludes that the only option left is for a concerted U.S. effort to reach a new political agreement on steps that can be taken after the political process plays out in the October referendum and in the December elections for a permanent government. The agreement could then be implemented either through constitutional amendment or legislation, ICG proposed.