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Analysts: Iraqi Constitution No Guarantee of Peace, Stability


Officials in Iraq are continuing to count millions of paper ballots from the referendum on the new Iraqi constitution, with partial results suggesting the document will be approved. However, Middle East analysts warn that, even if the constitution is ratified, there are no guarantees a peaceful and democratic Iraq will emerge any time soon.

Preliminary and unofficial results indicate the constitution, as expected, won approval in northern provinces dominated by Kurds and in mostly Shi'ite Muslim southern Iraq.

Sunni Arabs in the center of the country who opposed the constitution appear to have failed in their efforts to defeat it.

Anthony Cordesman, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says even if the official results confirm the constitution has been approved, the situation in Iraq is still very unstable.

"Is this a stable democracy? Does it mean, if there is a civil war you won't get a strongman or a division of the country? Could the parties that hold together today split up and become violent, or simply turn to a more authoritarian approach? Of course they can. Nothing is stable here at all, as yet," he noted.

Many Sunni Arabs opposed the draft constitution because it will allow the establishment of regional autonomous states.

Some Sunnis fear this could lead to a breakup of Iraq, with Kurds in the north and Shi'ites in the south controlling the oil-rich areas of the country.

The director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies is Jon Alterman.

Mr. Alterman says Sunnis, who ruled Iraq for decades under Saddam Hussein and make up the backbone of the insurgency, are motivated by their fear of the future.

"Sunnis are feeling very, very strongly that the country they have built is being stolen out from under them," he said. "While most Kurds may actually wish for independence, and few people in the Shi'ite south really seem threatened by a breakup, a lot of people in the center of the country, and especially Sunnis, fear being left in a rump state with no resources and no recourse."

U.S. officials say approval of the constitution is an important step in bringing stability to Iraq and the eventual withdrawal of the 150,000 American troops that are stationed there.

Sunni voters largely boycotted legislative elections last January.

U.S. officials hope a higher Sunni turnout for the constitutional referendum will be an indication of their return to the mainstream political process, and will undercut support for the insurgency.

Middle East analyst Anthony Cordesman says a number of major steps need to be taken soon to improve Iraq's prospects following the vote on the constitution.

"If people can reach a political compromise that allows them to work together, to share the money, if you see gradually a Sunni shift away from the insurgency and you do not see Kurdish or Shi'ite revenge-seeking, this is not going to be a perfect democratic state, and I strongly suspect, a good part of the constitution is going to be largely ignored for at least several years, if not indefinitely. But it will be a much better state than they had under Saddam, or the alternatives of civil war or disintegration," added Mr. Cordesman.

Some prominent Sunni leaders supported the constitution after parliament agreed to last-minute compromises that will allow the document to be amended after new legislative elections scheduled for December.

If the constitution is approved, members of a new parliament will form a permanent government to run the country early next year.

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