Democracy Gets a Real Test in Iraq

The Bush administration may not see it that way, but it’s progress of a sort that Sunni leaders are urging followers to vote “no” on the proposed Iraqi constitution.

From the U.S. standpoint, a rejection of that document would be a setback _ and certainly postpone the point at which we would safely begin withdrawing troops _ but at least the Sunnis are being drawn into the political process. They’ve already started organizing demonstrations to rally the opposition.

Clearly, Sunnis now see their boycott of the parliamentary elections as a mistake. That made them latecomers to the drafting process, and the result was a finished product with which they have some serious disagreements.

The Sunnis’ principal objections are a form of federalism that they believe could lead to the breakup of Iraq; a ban on certain activities that singles out the Saddam-era and largely Sunni Baath Party; and insufficient stress on Iraq’s identity.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has indicated that the draft constitution could still be amended to meet those objections, but the prospects don’t look good and the law does say that this is the final version.

The Bush administration is heavily invested in this constitution and seeing it ratified. The president called it “a document of which the Iraqis and the rest of the world can be proud.” However, it would seem wise to begin planning in case the Iraqis reject the constitution, particularly how the rejection would impact the planned election of a permanent government in December.

In one sense, the Oct. 15 referendum will be a real test for the Iraqis. A key measure of democracy is the willingness of the citizens to put a contentious issue to an honest vote and abide by the result.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)