On Tuesday, the Financial Times (UK) reported that the war party in Washington is feeling "a sense of alarm these days" as influential conservatives as well as Iraqi exiles despair of realizing their original goals and withdraw support of the U.S. adventure in Iraq. -- U.S. public opinion no longer supports the war, Guy Dinmore noted: "The latest CBS poll shows that 32 per cent of Americans approve of President George W. Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq, and 59 per cent want U.S. troops out as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not completely stable. -- And no wonder: as for the situation in Iraq itself, "Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-war think-tank, said insurgents were mounting about 90 attacks a day, compared to 50 to 70 a year ago," and Eisendstadt "expressed concern that if the constitution is approved insurgents will be able to mobilize more support from Sunnis who feel the system is stacked against them." -- Wednesday's announcement that, as the Washington Post put it, "Four days before Iraqis are to vote on their country's proposed constitution, Shiite, Sunni Arab, and Kurdish power brokers reached a breakthrough . . . which would allow the constitution to be changed early next year . . . The major concession from Tuesday's talks was agreement by the Shiites and Kurds that a committee be created early next year to consider amendments to the constitution, if voters approve it Saturday. . . . Any changes recommended by the committee would have to be ratified by a two-thirds vote of parliament and a national referendum" pushed the ridiculousness of the process to new heights. -- In fact, these last-minute changes are as irregular as the entire American adventure in Iraq. -- Even the extension granted to produce the draft constitution that has already been promulgated was illegal since the "law" under which the constitution was drafted, which required that an extension be requested "no later than 1 August 2005" by the president of the National Assembly certifying to the Presidential Council "that there is a need for additional time." -- Now we are to believe that a "deal" between "power brokers" can be given "legal approval" by the "legislature" a few days before the vote. -- The entire exercise in Iraq is an embarrassment. -- And the world is not deceived. -- It is obvious to all that the "Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transtional Period" is a neo-Orwellian instrument of imperialism imposed upon the people of Iraq by force through an invasion that the flouted international law and the will of the United Nations -- and global public opinion as well; for more on this subject, see here. -- AP reported Wednesday that "Iraqi lawmakers approved a set of last-minute amendments to the constitution without a vote on Wednesday, sealing a compromise designed to win Sunni support and boost chances for the charter's approval in a referendum just three days away." -- How, one wonders, do "lawmakers" approve "amendments" "without a vote"? -- The answer: "with intense U.S. mediation." -- The notion, widely disseminated in the U.S. press, that such a "breakthrough" could save the process from continuing to careen toward disaster was belied immediately: "At least one major Sunni Arab party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said it will now support the draft at the polls. But some other Sunni parties rejected the amendments and said they would still campaign for a 'no' vote. . . . [including] the influential Association of Muslim Scholars." -- The entire proceeding was farcical: "'We have the right to be proud in saying that today was a day of national consensus,' President Jalal Talabani said. 'So congratulations to our people for their constitution.' The hour-long session, attended by 159 of parliament's 275 members -- ended without the lawmakers voting on the amendments, but Parliament Speaker Hajim al-Hassani said no actual vote was necessary and that the compromise was approved. . . . U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad attended Wednesday's parliament session." -- Even North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly has more of a semblance of democracy than this....
Middle East and Africa
CONSERVATIVES AND EXILES DESERT WAR CAMPAIGN
By Guy Dinmore
Financial Times (UK)
October 11, 2005
Even among the strongest advocates in Washington of the war in Iraq there is a sense of alarm these days, with harsh criticism directed particularly at the draft constitution, which they see as a betrayal of principles and a recipe for disintegration of the Iraqi state.
Expressions of concern among conservatives and former Iraqi exiles, seen also in the rising disillusionment of the American public, reflect a widening gap with the Bush administration and its claims of incredible political progress in Iraq.
Over the past week, two of Washington's most influential conservative think-tanks, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Heritage Foundation, held conferences on Iraq where the mood among speakers, including Iraqi officials, was decidedly somber.
Kanan Makiya, an outspoken proponent of the war who is documenting the horrors of the Saddam regime in his Iraq Memory Foundation, opened the AEI meeting by admitting to many dashed dreams.
He said he and other opposition figures had seriously underestimated the powers of ethnic and sectarian self-interest, as well as the survivability of the constantly morphing and flexible Ba'ath party. He also blamed the Bush administration for poor planning and committing too few troops.
The proposed constitution, to be taken to a referendum on Saturday, was a profoundly destabilizing document that could deal a death blow to Iraq, he said.
The constitution was a recipe for greater chaos, said Rend Rahim, a former exile who had been designated as Iraq's first postwar ambassador to the U.S. Unless revised, it would lead to such a devolution of power that the central government would barely exist, she said.
Qubad Talabani, Washington representative of the Kurdistan regional government, delivered a stinging indictment of the central government that echoed the growing divisions in the ruling alliance of Shia and Kurds.
Danielle Pletka, senior analyst at AEI and conference moderator, called the constitution deeply flawed, describing it as the result of political machinations between Iraqis and Americans. She said the process had been reduced to a benchmark for the exit of U.S. troops.
With growing numbers of Americans wanting an early withdrawal from Iraq, Mrs. Pletka's remarks reflect the concerns of conservative ideologues that the Bush administration will succumb to internal pressures and pull out prematurely.
The latest CBS poll shows that 32 per cent of Americans approve of President George W. Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq, and 59 per cent want U.S. troops out as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not completely stable.
Mrs. Pletka insists that despite what she called frustration and anger at day-to-day decision-making and unnecessary mistakes, conservative supporters of the war remain optimistic in the long term. I think the president is right there has been enormous progress, she told the FT.
General David Petraeus, recently in charge of training the new Iraqi army, spoke of tremendous progress by any metric in building up Iraq's armed forces.
I'm not putting lipstick on any pigs out there, he said.
But he admitted to concerns that the army did not have enough minority Sunnis and that Iraqi soldiers faced conflicting loyalties.
At the Heritage Foundation, Bing West, a former marine who has been embedded with 17 battalions in Iraq, cautioned that the referendum would not lead to a political epiphany.
Brute force will win this war, he said.
Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-war think-tank, said insurgents were mounting about 90 attacks a day, compared to 50 to 70 a year ago. He expressed concern that if the constitution is approved insurgents will be able to mobilize more support from Sunnis who feel the system is stacked against them.
Speaking later to the FT, Mr. Eisenstadt said it would take years to defeat such an insurgency but there were indications that the Bush administration would start to pull out troops in 2006 for its own political and electoral reasons.
I don't know if it is winnable, but we haven't lost it yet, Mr. Eisenstadt concluded. The original goals, he said, were out of reach but something acceptable was still possible.
Tensions over Iraq mean the administration is trying to finesse waning public support for the war with disapproval of its conduct among its core devotees who fear cut and run. This helps explain the mixed messages from the Pentagon and the White House on whether troops will start to return in early 2006.
At the same time, Mr. Bush and his cabinet are presenting a new case against a premature pull-out, arguing that this would mean not just an end to the democratic aspirations of Iraqis, but also defeat for the whole freedom agenda in the Middle East.
If we quit now, said Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, in a speech at Princeton University last month, we will embolden every enemy of liberty and democracy across the Middle East. We will destroy any chance that the people of this region have of building a future of hope and opportunity. And we will make America more vulnerable.
DEAL IN IRAQ RAISES HOPES FOR PASSAGE OF CONSTITUTION
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer
** Changes Attempt to Gain Backing from Sunni Voters **
October 12, 2005
BAGHDAD -- Four days before Iraqis are to vote on their country's proposed constitution, Shiite, Sunni Arab, and Kurdish power brokers reached a breakthrough late Tuesday that revived hopes of winning Sunni support for the charter and defusing the Sunni-led insurgency by political means, Iraqi political leaders said.
Before the deal was announced, insurgents staged another in a string of major attacks that have come in advance of Saturday's referendum. A suicide car bombing in the northern city of Tall Afar killed 30 people, all civilians, police said.
The tentative accord, which would allow the constitution to be changed early next year, was reached through closed-door deals made largely by political party chiefs rather than members of the committee that wrote the charter. A parliamentary leader questioned whether enough time was left for the National Assembly to give it legal approval before the referendum.
But after weeks of stalemate over a draft constitution that largely shut out the demands of Iraq's disempowered Sunni Arab minority and raised fears of even greater sectarian and insurgent violence, some Sunni negotiators accepted Tuesday's changes with clear relief.
"With the changes, I will give my full support to the constitution," said Mishan Jabouri, a Sunni Arab who was involved in negotiations. An opponent of the previous draft, Jabouri had said he stayed in the talks only at the coaxing of Middle Eastern diplomats.
"Before now, I felt like I am losing. We are losing our power, we are losing our country, and I am like a foreigner living here," Jabouri said. "Now everything has changed. This constitution, I think any Arab Sunni can support it."
"I believe the key part of the Sunni community will come on board," said another senior Iraqi official close to the talks. "We have come very far at the very last minute."
The deal was achieved largely because of what U.S. officials have called "tweaking" encouraged by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. The diplomat has pushed for unceasing negotiations to win Sunni approval since late August, when Shiite and Kurdish leaders of Iraq's transitional government approved a draft over Sunni objections.
The major concession from Tuesday's talks was agreement by the Shiites and Kurds that a committee be created early next year to consider amendments to the constitution, if voters approve it Saturday, said Ali Debagh, a top Shiite official involved in the talks. Any changes recommended by the committee would have to be ratified by a two-thirds vote of parliament and a national referendum, Debagh said.
The compromise appealed to the Sunni Arabs, observers said, because the changes would be put before a new parliament, to be elected Dec. 15. Sunnis have had comparatively little say in the existing parliament because they largely stayed away from the polls when the body was elected in January. Because the Sunni Arabs heeded insurgents' threats of violence against anyone who voted and their own leaders' calls for a boycott, Shiites captured a majority of seats and allied themselves with ethnic Kurds, who are Sunni Muslims, to form a strong governing coalition.
Despite continued warnings by insurgents, Sunni Arabs have vowed to vote Saturday and in the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, and they expect to have greater representation in the next parliament. During the registration period for Saturday's vote, hundreds of thousands of people signed up in the heavily Sunni west.
The Sunnis' most visceral objection to the draft constitution is the provision for remaking Iraq into a loose federation with a weak central government. The federation would include a highly independent Kurdish north and possibly an oil-rich, Shiite ministate in the south, leaving Sunnis in the resource-poor center and west.
Sunni negotiators say they hope they can influence the creation of the federal system if they have more members in the next parliament.
Another change agreed to Tuesday waters down a passage in the draft charter referring to members of Saddam Hussein's now-outlawed Baath Party as terrorists. The new language stipulates that "not all Baathists" are terrorists, Debagh said.
The senior official close to the talks, who spoke on condition he not be identified further, cautioned that even more last-minute changes to the deals might be made.
Debagh sounded less pleased than Kurdish and Sunni negotiators at Tuesday's compromises.
"This is the requirement of the Sunni," the Shiite negotiator said. "They have said if we do this, we will vote yes on the constitution."
Faction leaders said they would present the deal to parliament Wednesday afternoon. Hussein Shahristani, a Shiite who is deputy speaker of parliament, said he doubted lawmakers could muster the quorum needed to approve a final version of the draft constitution incorporating Tuesday's compromises.
With a four-day national curfew starting Thursday and a holiday called for on the day of the vote, lawmakers already have begun leaving Baghdad, Shahristani said. "I cannot see how it is possible for the members to come back to Baghdad," he said.
In addition, copies of the draft constitution went to press weeks ago and are already being distributed. Negotiators said Tuesday that they would rely on TV, radio, and newspapers to give Iraqis the gist of changes in the charter.
"Until now, none of the normal people know that this has happened," said Jabouri, the Sunni negotiator. "I will announce my support on my satellite channel, and we will make sure people find out. I can say proudly that no more than 20 percent of Salahuddin province will say no, and 80 percent will say yes."
Salahuddin is one of at least three majority-Sunni provinces in Iraq. Defeating the constitution would take a no vote by two-thirds of voters in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces, and Sunnis in the west in particular have made clear in rallies, banners, and statements that they intended to vote no.
Now, "the only opponents should be the Zarqawi people," Jabouri said, referring to followers of Abu Musab Zarqawi, the head of the insurgent group al Qaeda in Iraq. "They oppose everything. If they wrote the constitution, they would oppose it."
Across Iraq on Tuesday, car bombings killed at least 36 civilians and policemen. The deadliest was in Tall Afar, where a suicide attacker drove a car laden with explosives into a crowded market and detonated them, killing 30 people, said Abdullah Najim, a policeman in the city.
"This is a threatening message sent to the Sunnis before the referendum," Najim said.
Separately Tuesday, Britain expressed regret and offered to pay compensation for personal injuries and property damage caused last month when its troops raided a prison in southern Iraq to free two British special forces soldiers, Reuters said. The clash in Basra soured relations between Iraq and Britain and increased anger at the British military presence there.
--Finer reported from Najaf. Special correspondents Omar Fekeiki in Baghdad and Dlovan Brwari in Mosul contributed to this report.
IRAQI LAWMAKERS OK LAST-MINUTE AMENDMENTS
By Mariam Fam
October 13, 2005
BAGHDAD -- Iraqi lawmakers approved a set of last-minute amendments to the constitution without a vote on Wednesday, sealing a compromise designed to win Sunni support and boost chances for the charter's approval in a referendum just three days away.
The deal, brokered with intense U.S. mediation, came as insurgents pressed their campaign to wreck Saturday's referendum. A suicide bomber killed 30 Iraqis at an army recruitment center in a northern town where another bomber had struck just a day earlier.
At least one major Sunni Arab party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said it will now support the draft at the polls. But some other Sunni parties rejected the amendments and said they would still campaign for a "no" vote.
The most significant change is the introduction of a mechanism allowing Sunni Arabs to try to make more substantive changes in the constitution later, after a new parliament is elected in December.
Sunnis want to weaken the considerable autonomous powers the Shiite and Kurdish mini-states would have under the constitution. But there's no guarantee they will succeed: They will still likely face strong opposition from majority Shiites and Kurds in the new parliament.
The amendments passed Wednesday also made some key symbolic concessions to Sunni Arabs, starting with the first article underlining that Iraq will be a single nation with its unity guaranteed -- a nod to fears among the disaffected minority that the draft as it stood would fragment the country.
That was not enough, however, for many Sunni leaders.
"The added articles do not change anything and provide no guarantees," Muthana Harith al-Dhari, spokesman of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, told Al-Jazeera television.
"We have called for boycotting the elections or rejecting the constitution," he said.
Still, the changes will likely split the Sunni vote enough to prevent them from defeating the draft constitution. The draft will be rejected if more than two thirds of the voters oppose it in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces, and Sunnis have the potential to do so in just four.
The charter's passage is a key goal of the United States, since failure would mean months more political instability and would delay U.S. plans to start pulling troops out of Iraq.
Sunni Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer said the amendments meant Sunnis had to work harder in the December parliamentary elections to ensure a strong presence in the next parliament to try for future, deeper changes in the constitution.
They have only 17 members in the current 275-member parliament after largely boycotting Jan. 30 elections.
"This is the best we have. We have to be practical," al-Yawer said. "This has opened the door for major amendments of the constitution. This will happen through participating in the elections. The more turnout there is, the more chances there are for amendments."
With the new agreement, Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani "ordered Shiites to vote 'yes' in the referendum," one of his aides, Faisal Thbub, said.
It was the most direct show of support for the charter by al-Sistani, whose power was shown in January election when his word of support brought out huge numbers of voters to back Shiite parties.
Iraq's top leaders, including the Kurdish president and Shiite prime minister, lined up on stage before the gathered lawmakers in parliament, lauding the deal as a show of unity between the country's often divided factions and communities.
"We have the right to be proud in saying that today was a day of national consensus," President Jalal Talabani said. "So congratulations to our people for their constitution."
The hour-long session, attended by 159 of parliament's 275 members -- ended without the lawmakers voting on the amendments, but Parliament Speaker Hajim al-Hassani said no actual vote was necessary and that the compromise was approved.
The deal had already been accepted by the main parties in parliament after it was reached Tuesday night following three days of marathon negotiations, shepherded by U.S. officials. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad attended Wednesday's parliament session.
Washington welcomed the compromise as a positive step. "We believe the political process should be inclusive," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
But McClellan added that the Bush administration expected to see "continued violence because the terrorists understand how high the stakes are in Iraq."
Under one of the main changes introduced Wednesday, the upcoming parliament will form a committee that will have four months to recommend new amendments. These amendments must be all approved by parliament, but by a simple majority rather than a two-thirds majority that would normally be required. They would then go to a national referendum.
That gives the Sunnis a window to bring about the deeper changes they want. They fear that the powers given to the Shiite and Kurdish mini-states will leave them in an impoverished central zones, without access to oil wealth concentrated in the north and south.
But there is no guarantee they will succeed in winning the future amendments. Their proposed amendments would still have to get through Shiite-Kurdish resistance in parliament. Then they can be defeated in the popular referendum that follows if two-thirds of the voters in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces vote "no."
Another significant amendment assures Sunni Arabs that they will not be purged in Iraq's De-Baathification program simply for belonging to Saddam's ousted Baath Party. Many current Sunni Arab political leaders were Baath members and insist only those who actually committed crimes should be prosecuted.
Others emphasize the country's links to the Arab world over those to the Islamic world -- a concern of Sunnis who see Iraq's Shiite majority as drawn to neighboring Shiite-majority Iran -- and reinforce the use of the Arabic language in Kurdistan, the autonomous zone of the non-Arab Kurds.
Still others -- such a new article committing the government to promote sports -- were added at the suggestion of letters from the public.
At least 438 people have been killed in militant violence in the last 17 days as insurgents try to scare voters away from the polls Saturday.
On Wednesday, for the second day in a row, a suicide attacker hit the northwestern town of Tal Afar.
The bomber set off explosives hidden under his clothes at the first of two checkpoints outside the army recruiting center in Tal Afar, where men were gathering to apply for jobs, said army Capt. Raad Ahmed and town police chief Brig. Najim Abdullah. They said at least 30 people were killed and 35 wounded.
A day earlier, a suicide bomber killed 30 civilians and wounded 45 when he plowed his explosives-packed vehicle into a crowded outdoor market in Tal Afar. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for that attack.
In August, U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted a major offensive in Tal Afar, 93 miles east of the Syrian border, claiming to have killed 200 insurgents and driven many others out.
Also Wednesday, the military announced that two U.S. soldiers died and one was injured when their vehicle rolled over while on patrol during combat near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad.
The crash brought to 1,962 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.