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Iraq's Oily Referendum

1-12-2005        

With the passage of its constitution in a nationwide vote, Iraq's transition is now complete: not into a democratic bellwether for the Middle East but into ground zero for a civil war that threatens to ignite a regional conflagration.

Predicting as much before the vote, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said on Sept. 22 that the Iraqi constitution "could split the country apart." He told Reuters that Iraq is "gradually going toward disintegration" and that "will draw the countries of the region into conflict."

Just days later, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group warned on Sept. 26 that "a rushed constitutional process has deepened rifts and hardened feelings" among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. It said "the constitution is likely to fuel rather than dampen the insurgency, encourage ethnic and sectarian violence, and hasten the country's violent break-up."

Sunni Arabs in particular felt the charter had been stacked against them by allowing oil-rich provinces in the Shiite south and Kurdish north to form autonomous regions. Sunnis showed some of the greatest enthusiasm for the vote: Not because they were "joining the base of this broad political process," as Condoleezza Rice put it, but "So that history can witness that we said no," as Sunnis from the town of Balad explained to the Washington Post.

Even more ominous, another Sunni told the Post, "The fight will continue against the Americans, whether we vote yes or no."

The referendum only hardened their bitterness because of suspicious ballots results. If voters in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces had rejected the charter by a two-thirds majority, the constitution would have failed. According to the New York Times, Sunnis dominate in four provinces. In two of the Sunni provinces, Anbar and Salaheddin, more than 70 percent rejected the constitution. But in a third, Nineveh, some 78 percent are said to have approved the document, prompting cries of fraud.

Of the 2.5 million people in Nineveh, some 90 percent come from communities, such as Arab, Turkomen and Assyrian, overwhelmingly opposed to the constitution. Yet initial results put the no vote at a paltry 100,000.

Beforehand, one journalist predicted fraud in Nineveh, explaining how Kurds rigged the vote there in January. Gareth Porter, in an article entitled "Stuffing Iraq's Balllot Boxes," spoke with U.S. Army Maj. Anthony Cruz who worked with the province's electoral commission. Cruz recounted how ballots failed to get to non-Kurd areas, while Kurdish militiamen stole others. One village of 12,000 returned 115,000 ballots, leading Cruz at the time to joke about a "500 percent voter participation rate."

With Sunnis convinced that the process was rigged, the sectarian conflict will likely intensify. But another inescapable factor is also adding to the strife: oil.

The story is buried deep in the constitution.

Article 109 of the new constitution recognizes the country's vast oil wealth as "the property of all the Iraqi people." But Article 110 leaves a loophole big enough to sail an oil tanker through by giving the federal government jurisdiction only over "oil and gas extracted from current fields." According to Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, "current fields" cover just one-third of Iraq's known reserves of 115 billion barrels.

The same article states that the federal government and producing regions will together "develop oil and gas wealth relying on the most modern techniques of market principles and encouraging investment."

The constitution then states: "All that is not written in the exclusive powers of the federal authorities is in the authority of the regions." Incredibly, in any dispute between regions and the federal government over shared powers, "priority will be given to the region's law."

Finally, Article 114 allows "One province or more the right to form a region" through a referendum, while Article 129 calls for regional governments to organize "internal security forces for the region such as police, security and regional guards."

To sum it all up, any one of Iraq's 18 provinces can set up an autonomous region with its own government and military force, negotiate with outside companies to exploit oil reserves and dispute any "shared power" with the federal government -- such as developing reserves -- knowing that it will win every time.

These provisions outline the concept of "federalism" that has provoked intense Sunni opposition. But enthusiasm for the "democratic process" has waned among other communities. In the southern province of Najaf, reported the Washington Post, an estimated 50 percent of voters turned out for the Oct. 15 referendum versus 80 percent in January.

With an ineffectual government composed mainly of exiles and self-interested parties, most Iraqis are more concerned about basic services, jobs and security than another round of balloting, which is coming in December.

The frustration was best summed up by one Iraqi who told Robert Fisk of The Independent (London) that while the constitution was important, "my family lives in fear of kidnapping, I'm too afraid to tell my father I work for journalists, and we only have one hour in six of electricity and we can't even keep our food from going bad in the fridge. Federalism? You can't eat federalism and you can't use it to fuel your car."

By A. K. Gupta

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Who are the Christians of Iraq? 

December = Canoon Gadmaya

Iraq's Oily Referendum Dec. 1, 05

Iraqi Parliamentary Elections In California Dec. 1, 05

November = Tishrin II 

Burial pictures of the Two Assyrians Killed Nov. 30, 05

Two Assyrian Party Members Killed in Iraq, Two Wounded Nov. 29, 05

Iraq Election Coverage at Ashur T.V. Nov. 29, 05

Iraq's Elections Could Be 'Magnet' for Success, Adviser Says Nov. 29, 05

Assyrian Political posters for the upcoming elections Nov. 29, 05

Islamic reformers struggle to revise school textbooks Nov. 28, 05

Iraq's political-campaign season in full swing as violence continues Nov. 27, 05

The Crusades Remembered, a Different Perspective Nov. 26, 05

Iraqi Factions Seek Timetable for U.S. Pullout Nov. 25, 05

Dora:Baghdad's Neighborhood Becomes Trouble Spot Nov. 25, 05

Iraq: Election Official On Expat Voting Set Up Nov. 24, 05 

Prediction of a Better Future for Iraq Nov. 24, 05

Iraqi Kurdish leadership is more consumed with self-enrichment Nov. 23, 05

Early voting in Iraq's parliamentary election to begin December 12th  Nov. 22, 05

The Assyrian Church of the East Maintains Its Continuity Nov. 22, 05

Not all Middle Easterners are Muslim, Arab Nov. 21, 05

The Middle East Needs Lebanese Christians Nov. 21, 05

Academic Conference on Seyfo [genocide] Held in Sweden Nov. 20, 05

Anovel by Abdulsalam Nov. 20, 05 

Harbole": A documentary film Nov. 20, 05

Letter To the Hellenic Parliament  Nov. 20, 05

My Grandmother Heranus  Nov. 19, 05

Books About the Assyrians Nov. 17, 05  

A Moslem discovers the praise of Christian and Jewish scriptures in the Koran  Nov. 17, 05

Iran is behind the Badr Brigade who are accused of jailing and torturing the Sunnies Nov. 17, 05 

Democracy, the Kurdish Style.  Nov. 17, 05

Talabani Promises Pope Equality and Respect for All Religions Nov.16, 05

Assyrian Wedding Comes to Australian TV Nov. 15, 05

In Jordan, Chaldean Catholics help Iraqis Nov. 15. 05

Are you a Christian in the Middle East?  Nov. 14, 05

The Assyrian General Conference Election Platform for Iraq Nov. 12, 05

Old hotel may become home for Hurricane Katrina victims Nov. 12, 05

Iraqi leader affirms Christians' rights Nov. 11, 11, 05

Egypt's Christian-Muslim divide 11, 11, 05

Assyrian Family Attacked in Tikrit Nov. 11, 05

Ancinet Assyrian Style Citadel in Los Angeles Nov. 11, 05

Priests say Iraqi Christians now victims of extortion Nov. 08, 05

Iraq; International Religious Freedom Report 2005 Nov. 08, 05

Chaldean Synod to focus on Iraq and Liturgy Nov. 08, 05

Assyrian Killed in Kirkuk's Car Bombing Nov. 05, 05

Funeral of Grace Mgr. J. Y. Cicek Nov. 05, 05 

Witnesses Describe Ballot Fraud in Nineveh Nov. 04, 05

Chaldean synod should tackle Christian migration and evangelicals' proselytism,  11. 04, 05 

Unexpected Death of His Eminence Mor Julius Yeshu Çiçek Shocks Assyrians & the Syrian Orthodox Church Nov. 03, 05  

Three Christian schoolgirls beheaded in Indonesia Nov. 03, 05

On the trail of stolen Iraqi art Nov. 03, 05

Lost in the Sunni Triangle Leaders of Baghdad church presumed dead.  Nov. 03, 05

Who is Killing the Iraqi's and the Americans?   Nov. 02, 05

What Next in Iraq?  Nov. 02, 05

An American's View of Iraq's Assyrians  Nov. 01, 05

October = Tishrin I

New Coalitions Emerge for Parliamentary Elections in Iraq10, 31, 05

Should the U.S. Withdraw? Let the Iraqi People Decide 10, 31, 05

Those Who Voted Against Constitution Are Terrorists: Iraqi President 10, 30, 05

An Assyrian Engineer Killed by the Kurds in Kirkuk 10, 30, 05

Kurds Reclaiming Prized Territory In Northern Iraq 10, 30, 05

Dwyer: Most Iraqis want a constitution - and want U.S. troops to leave 10, 30, 05

The oldest lense 10, 28, 05

Westminster Hall debate on Iraqi Kurdistan  i.e. northern Iraq 10, 25, 05

Iraq constitution approved  10, 25, 05 

Assyrian and Babylonian medicine was surprisingly advanced 10, 24, 05 

What's in a Name? 10, 12, 05 

Draft constitution denies equal rights, say Iraq's Christians  10, 22, 05

Rejection of Iraqi Referendum Possible as Nineveh Vote Fraud Reviewed 10, 21, 05 

Rosie Malek-Yonan's Schedule of The Crimson Field Book Tour 10, 20, 05

TURKEY DECRIES the Assyro-Chaldean MONUMENT IN FRANCE 10, 20, 05

Vote Figures for Crucial Ninveh Province Don't Add Up 10, 19, 05

Iraq Constitution: Bad news for Christians  10, 19. 05

Assyrian students unite 10, 19, 05

Iraq bishops ready to seek help from Pope  10, 19, 05

Charter vote resonates with Valley Iraqis Likely passage gives many hope 10. 18. 05  

Dividing the Chaldeans from the Assyrians by the Iraqi Constitution  10, 18, 05

A monument in France dedicated to the Remembrance of Assyro-Chaldean massacres by the Ottoman Turks. 10, 17, 05

Swing state' of Nineveh may be moving in favour of constitution 10, 15, 05 

Iraq votes for the Constitution and for its future 10, 14, 05

Forgotten victims - Iraqi Christians who speak the language of Jesus  10, 14, 05

Mgr Sako: people in Kirkuk have not read the constitution but will vote  10,13, 05

Terrorism strikes all Iraqis, says Patriarch 10, 13, 05

Assyriska a national football team without a country  10, 12, 05

Referendum: 'Yes' in Kurdistan and Southern cities and 'No' in Kirkuk, al Anbar and Diala 10, 12, 05

Chaos depriving Towns from Voting - The Minorities Fear the Domination of Islamic Parties10, 12, 05 

Bas-reliefs of winged goddesses discovered in western Iran 10, 12, 05

Immigration of Iraqi Chaldeans Abroad Passes through Jordan 10, 12, 05

Baghdadis tell their stories  10, 12, 05

Assyrialogist Henry Saggs Dies at 84 10, 10, 05

Letter by Ms. Jacqueline Zomaya The Assyrian representative to the Iraqi National Assembly 10, 10, 05

The Kurds are "cleansing" their domain ­ and provoking a civil war in Iraq  10, 09, 05

Nestorian label "imposed unjustly upon the Assyrians"  10, 08, 05

Iran's Assyrian MP-Felicitation to the Supreme Leader  10, 8, 05

Syriac Manuscripts from the Vatican Library: Volume 1 10, 08, 05

Sunnis Threaten Referendum Boycott if Rules Not Changed  10, 05, 05

Helping the Iraqi refugees in Jordan  10, 04, 05

Final Draft of Iraqi Constitution  10, 03, 05

Two More Assyrian Children Orphaned  10, 02, 05

Discoveries of the Assyrian antiquities in Syria 10, 01, 05 

Sectarian Strife tears apart Baghdad's Neighborhoods 10, 01, 05

 

 

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