Iraqis will vote on Saturday, October 15, in a critical nationwide referendum to accept or reject the country’s draft constitution. Iraq’s National Assembly, which is dominated by Shi’ite and Kurdish legislators, has endorsed the document, but Sunni Arabs continue to feel marginalized. Many analysts say that, instead of healing the growing divisions between Iraq’s three major communities, the constitutional process has deepened rifts and hardened feelings that could lead to civil war.
Entifadh Qanbar, deputy military attaché at the Iraq Embassy in Washington and spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress in Baghdad, was one of the drafters of the constitution. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Mr. Qanbar predicted that the referendum would pass. In response to Sunni Arab fears that a federal system would exclude them from their rightful share in Iraq’s oil wealth, Mr. Qanbar noted that under the proposed constitution the oil revenues would be shared by all Iraqis. And he blamed the terrorists and former Ba’athists for “hijacking” Sunni political interests. Mr. Qanbar noted that he and his fellow legislators are trying to develop an oil-holding company that would provide equal shares for all Iraqis and the National Assembly would provide for a fair system of taxation.
Regarding the Iraqi insurgency, Entifadh Qanbar said it is organized and funded by a Ba’athist organization and by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaida in Iraq. Mr. Qanbar said he believes the Iraqi forces are doing a “magnificent job.” But he called for a “status of forces agreement” between the U.S. military and the Iraqi army so that the current dissatisfaction with the American presence in Iraq can be diminished. He suggested that agreement should also address a carefully planned and coordinated U.S. military withdrawal.
Entifadh Qanbar said the chance of a civil war in Iraq is very slim. But he considers it “shameful” that Iraq’s neighbors, such as Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, have not supported Iraq against the insurgents, and there has been no cooperation from the Arab League. Furthermore, Mr. Qanbar criticized some of the neighboring Sunni Arab states for considering the Kurds and the Shi’a as “almost subhuman.”
Mr. Qanbar said the framers of the draft constitution are hoping to convince all Iraqis that there will be no monopoly of power by any one group in Iraq and they should participate in the democratic process. He suggested that the divides in Iraq are not so much along sectarian lines as along political and economic “interests.” Entifadh Qanbar said he is optimistic that many Sunni Arabs will vote in favor of the constitution despite their concerns about issues of federalism, “de-Ba’athification,” and their identity as part of the Arab world. Mr. Qanbar acknowledged that Iraq is a very complex country and only the Iraqi political leadership can address the challenges of democratic development.
For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.