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....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.Now, this deal never struck me as a serious concession since all it required was that amendments be considered. It would still take a two-thirds majority in the Council of Ministers to get them passed, and that never seemed likely especially since Abdul Aziz Hakim, the leader of SCIRI, the biggest Shiite party in the country, essentially repudiated the deal with a wink and a nod shortly after the constitution was approved.
Still, the process went ahead. First, though, Iraqi leaders had to form a government, and that didn't happen until May 2006. Then they had to form a committee to propose amendments, and that didn't happen until September. Now, seven months after the committee was named and a year and a half after the original deal was first struck, the Sunnis say they've had enough:
Iraq's top Sunni official has set a deadline of next week for pulling his entire bloc out of the government....Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi made his comments in an interview with CNN. He said if key amendments to the Iraq Constitution are not made by May 15, he will step down and pull his 44 Sunni politicians out of the 275-member Iraqi parliament.The October 2005 deal has served its purpose admirably: it got the constitution passed and it gave everyone some breathing room. But eventually the Shiites and Kurds were going to have to come through with some changes, and no real progress has ever been made on that. Just stalling.
"If the constitution is not subject to major changes, definitely, I will tell my constituency frankly that I have made the mistake of my life when I put my endorsement to that national accord," he said.
Specifically, he wants guarantees in the constitution that the country won't be split into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish federal states that he says will disadvantage Sunnis.
So what happens next? Prime Minister Maliki might be able to buy himself some more time, but probably not much. Eventually it's going to become clear that the Sunni amendments aren't going to be proposed, or if they are proposed, that they aren't going to pass. That day is looking ever closer, and all the battalions in the world aren't going to help Iraq if the Sunnis irrevocably pull out of the government. Stay tuned.