by colin foster
Last-minute tweaks to Iraq's constitutional referendum on 15 October had the desired effect.
According to unofficial figures, as of 18 October, the constitution got a 65% majority across Iraq, and was rejected by two-thirds majorities in only two provinces, Anbar and Salahuddin. A third heavily-Sunni province, Nineveh, may have had a majority against, but not two-thirds.
In the few days before the referendum, the government, under US pressure, changed the rules so that the constitution could have been defeated by two-thirds majorities of actual voters against it in three provinces. Its previous ruling, that an impossible two-thirds of eligible voters would be needed, was set to further inflame Iraq's Sunni Arab minority.
The government also added a proviso that the constitution will be amended (exactly how is unclear) and a new referendum held next year.
Moqtada al-Sadr’s Shia ultra-Islamists made only a formal, last-minute call for a no vote. The Sunni Islamists were split. The Iraq Islamic Party (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) voted yes. Most of the “resistance” militias voted no. Al Qaeda and the open Ba’thists threatened to kill people who voted.
In Anbar province, over 60 of the 209 polling stations did not open, and only 16% of voters went to the poll. However, that was up on the 2% who voted in the 30 January assembly elections. It looks like a lot more Sunni Arabs will participate in the new parliamentary elections, to be held under this constitution on 15 December.
Iraq’s gradual slide towards civil war has been slowed, or perhaps even reversed a notch.
The adverse background remains, however. The failure of the US-backed transitional government to do anything to bring reliable water and electricity supplies, or jobs. The disappearance of billions in corruption. The extreme unpopularity of the US/UK occupation and its free-market, flat-tax, privatising economic programme. The polarisation of even civilian politics into sectarian, communal, and national-minority blocs.
The new Iraqi labour movement is at present very much on the defensive. The new constitution repeals even the qualified and vague recognition of the right to strike in the previous US-sponsored “Transitional Administrative Law”. Possibly the relatively smooth conduct of the referendum, and a turn by some Sunni-Arab forces towards electoral politics, will give the labour movement space to regain momentum. In any case, it urgently needs our solidarity.