Answering 10 Frequently Asked Questions About Iraq

by John Hawkins | August 30, 2005 12:00 pm

1) Some people are saying that Iraq’s Constitution will lead to a theocracy. Is that true? Religion does play a more substantial role in Iraq’s Constitution[1] than it does in our Constitution here in the United States. However, not only does the Iraqi Constitution not create a theocracy, it has numerous clauses that guarantee the religious rights & freedoms of all Iraqis. For example:

Article (2): (b) No law can be passed that contradicts the principles of democracy.

(c) No law can be passed that contradicts the rights and basic freedoms outlined in this constitution.

2nd — This constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and the full religious rights for all individuals and the freedom of creed and religious practices like (Christians, Yazidis, Sabaean Mandeans.)

Article (14): Iraqis are equal before the law without discrimination because of sex, ethnicity, nationality, origin, color, religion, sect, belief, opinion or social or economic status.

Article (41): 1st — The followers of every religion and sect are free in:

(a) the practice of their religious rites, including the Husseiniya Rites (Editors Note: these are Shiite rites.) (b) the administration of religious endowments and their affairs and their religious institutions, and this will be organized by law.

2nd — The state guarantees freedom of worship and the protection of its places.

The Constitution also condemns terrorism, guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and property rights. It may not be a perfect document, but in many ways it’s better than many people may have expected.

2) Well, if it’s a pretty good Constitution, why aren’t the Sunnis on board? The chief complaint the Sunnis negotiators have had is over Federalism[2]. They fear that Federalism could be a prelude to the country breaking up. If that were to happen, the Sunnis would be left in the lurch because the oil is in regions largely inhabited by Shias and Kurds.

3) So, since the Sunnis oppose the Constitution, does that mean it will be voted down in October? In October, there will be a referendum on the Constitution and if 2/3rds of the voters in 3 or more of Iraq’s 18 provinces vote against the Constitution, it will be rejected. Sunnis hold a majority in 3[3] or 4[4] provinces, depending on who you believe.

Does that mean all those provinces will reject the Constitution? Not necessarily.

To begin with, as U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad[5] has pointed out — Sunnis may not feel free to openly speak out in favor of the Constitution because of terrorist threats:

“You heard some (Sunnis) say that they like the document, but if they openly support it, their lives could be at risk”

That means the public opposition to the Constitution we’re hearing from the Sunnis right now may be overstated and the support for the document may be significantly understated.

Moreover, we must keep in mind that even though Sunnis may make up a majority in 3-4 provinces, not all of them will vote against the Constitution. When you also consider that any Kurds and Shias in those provinces are expected to vote overwhelmingly for the Constitution, it may be difficult to get 67% of a province to vote “nay.”

Furthermore, it’s possible that the Sunni negotiators don’t necessarily represent the views of the Sunni population that well. For example, a poll of Iraqis done by a NGO called “The Civil Alliance For Free Elections”[6] “showed that 78% of participants support a federal state while 22% preferred a state based on a strong central government.” That means Federalism, which is supposed to be a big sticking point for Sunnis, may actually be a selling point.

On the other hand, since Sunnis didn’t heavily participate in the January elections, but are registering to vote in great numbers today, it may be possible that they will want the Constitution to be scrapped because they believe they’ll have more input into a 2nd version.

The long and short of it is that it’s very hard to say whether the Iraqi Constitution will be approved in October at this point.

4) What happens if the Constitution is rejected by the Iraqi people in October? Basically, they start the process all over again[7]:

“The National Assembly will be dissolved, and elections for a second transitional National Assembly will be held by December 15. The new assembly will appoint a new transitional prime minister and government, and the drafting process will start again. A second constitutional draft must be completed by August 15, 2006, after which another referendum will be held. If the new draft is ratified, a permanent government will be seated by the end of 2006. The TAL is silent on what happens if the second draft fails.”

5) Would it be a significant setback for the US if the Constitution were rejected by the Iraqis? Yes, it would be a significant setback since we’re hoping that getting more Iraqis involved in the political process and the elections currently scheduled for Dec 15 of this year will help reduce frustration and violence in the country.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the Constitution were rejected. As long as the US can continue to keep moving forward in training the Iraqis to police their own country, there’s no reason why we can’t keep progressing towards victory.

6) What is “victory” in Iraq?: Replacing Saddam Hussein with a democratic government that is capable of handling its own internal security.

7) Do US forces have to destroy the insurgency to win? No. As we’ve seen in Israel, India, Spain, Britain, and many other countries, terrorism alone isn’t enough to topple a Democratic government and allow the terrorists to take over. At some point, the terrorists would need an army capable of taking and holding territory. That’s a problem for the terrorists because even if they were able to concentrate their forces in order to take cities, they couldn’t hold their gains. After Fallujah and the crushing of Muqtada al-Sadr’s uprising, that has been proven.

And given: “that the U.S. expects to have 275,000 Iraqi policemen and soldiers[8] trained and equipped and organized into effective units” by June 2006, things are only going to be getting more difficult for the terrorists in the future.

8) Well, why aren’t all these troops trained already? What’s the hold up? Keep in mind that Iraq’s army under Saddam Hussein was dominated from top to bottom by Sunni loyalists. Because of that, the army had to be disbanded in order to make sure that they wouldn’t end up being a threat to the government (although some members of the army have been vetted and brought back into the fold).

So essentially, we started almost from scratch, training ordinary Iraqis with little experience for police and military jobs. Add to that the difficulties of our different cultures, the troubling and violent conditions, and the fact that we had to train the officers as well, and it has been slow going.

But just because it has been “slow going” doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been enormous progress. As Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus pointed out earlier this month[9]:

“…more than 110 Iraqi police and army combat battalions are “in the fight” — a total of 178,000 trained and equipped forces — a vast increase since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.

Pentagon officials, quoted in an August news article on the Defense Department Web site, said “this time last year, only one battalion was trained and equipped well enough to assist coalition forces.”

9) Ok, so the Iraqis are making progress. What does that mean for our troops? When can they start to come home?

The President has refused to set a timetable for a pull out because he believes it would give the insurgents an “incentive ‘to wait us out.'”[10] Instead Bush has said that as: ““Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.”[11]

Although the President is keeping his lips buttoned, some of our generals have been a bit more forthcoming about our plans.

Gen. George W. Casey has said that there may be: “some “fairly substantial reductions”[12] after these elections in the spring and summer.

Furthermore, the Washington Post noted in late July that Lt. Gen. John R. Vines: “told reporters last month that four or five of 17 battalions, roughly one-quarter of U.S. forces in Iraq, could be pulled out if security conditions improved and if Iraqi national elections scheduled for December went smoothly.”

Similarly in July, Gen. John Abizaid[13]: “outlined a plan last month to gradually reduce by 20,000 to 30,000 by next spring the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, with more to follow in the summer and fall.”

So, it looks likely that we will see substantial troop reductions in Iraq between Jan & June of 2006, although we may actually see a temporary increase in the number of troops in Iraq over the next few months in order to provide extra security for the Iraqi elections.

10) That sounds good in theory, but can our military hold up under the pressure? Are we wrecking the military by keeping them in Iraq under the current circumstances? First of all, there is no such thing as “light casualties” to a family that has had a loved one injured in combat. So make no mistake about it, what we’re doing in Iraq has been hard on our soldiers and on their families and friends.

That being said, as Sgt. Joe Roche of the 12th Aviation Battalion[14] explains, we shouldn’t lose our perspective:

“The fact is that we are not experiencing casualty rates anywhere near past conflicts, nor for that matter as bad as during peacetime. There were weeks in Vietnam when 350-400 Americans died, and in other wars thousands would die in single battles. Nothing like that is happening now.

From 1983 to 1996, more than 18,000 soldiers died. That averages to more than 1,300 a year, far more than have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan each year. Yes, that was mostly from accidents, drunk driving and other mishaps. Yet, while protesters in Crawford, Texas and elsewhere would have you think that our military can’t survive with the low casualty rates of this war, I wonder why they were willing to accept the much higher peacetime casualty rates of the past? We lost around 3,000 innocent people on September 11, and with four years of war and the toppling of two regimes, we haven’t lost that many in combat.”

Furthermore, as the Boston Globe reported[15], when you look at new enlistments AND re-enlistments combined, the military is still keeping up the necessary amount of manpower:

“Recruits in July totaled 109 percent of the Army’s goal, the second straight month above target. In aggregate, the four services were 4 percent over (the Navy fell 1 percent short).

The Pentagon says the Army will still fall short for the fiscal year, and reserve components are still not signing up enough new members (though re-upping targets are being met by the National Guard units of the Army and Air Force). Still, the enlistments ought to prove that America’s young men and women still believe in their country and its difficult mission in Iraq, despite all that Cindy Sheehan and her band of like-minded demonstrators can do.

The New York Post dug a little deeper than the bare-bones announcement. Every one of the Army’s 10 combat divisions has exceeded its re-enlistment goal for the fiscal year so far. The 1st Cavalry Division was at 136 percent; the 3rd Infantry Division at 117 percent. As author Ralph Peters noted, “This is unprecedented in wartime.””

The fact that our troops are choosing to re-enlist in significantly higher than expected numbers, even though many of them know they’ll be going back to Iraq, should tell us quite a bit about the morale of our troops and whether they believe this fight is worthwhile.

  1. Iraq’s Constitution:
  2. Federalism:
  3. 3:
  4. 4:
  5. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad:
  6. “The Civil Alliance For Free Elections”:
  7. all over again:
  8. 275,000 Iraqi policemen and soldiers:
  9. pointed out earlier this month:
  10. “incentive ‘to wait us out.'”:
  11. “Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.”:
  12. “fairly substantial reductions”:
  13. Gen. John Abizaid:
  14. Sgt. Joe Roche of the 12th Aviation Battalion:
  15. Boston Globe reported:

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