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Iraqi Reality Check

02/10/05 12:00AM By Barrie Dunsmore
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(HOST) Commentator Barrie Dunsmore believes the initial euphoria over the Iraqi election needs a reality check.


(DUNSMORE) Millions of Iraqis showed extraordinary courage in daring to vote in the election eleven days ago. And that courage must have been inspired by a genuine desire on the part of those who voted to have a better life.

Perhaps you can't blame the White House for spinning the results and wanting to turn the election into an endorsement of the president's Iraq policies. But, while the spirit of Iraqi voters was admirable, it must be said that we are still a very long way from having a united, democratic Iraq, stable enough to allow for the withdrawal of U. S. forces. In my view, only after achieving those objectives might a case be made that the decision to invade Iraq was justified.

In the past week, the insurgency has shown no signs of letting up. As the results of the voting have slowly become known, it's clear that the make-up of the new parliament is going to make the writing of a new constitution a formidable task. The Shiites and the Kurds will be over-represented. The Sunnis, who either boycotted the election or were afraid to vote, won't have anything like their 20 percent share of the seats - and they are the ones supporting the insurgency.

But how to deal with the Sunnis in drawing up the new constitution is only one of the problems for the new parliament. There are two absolutely burning questions that will dominate the constitutional debate. One: How much Islamic law should be part of the constitution? And two: How much autonomy should be given to the three regions of the country.

The extent of Islamic law will ultimately determine whether or not the country becomes a theocracy. And, among other things, that would greatly shape the role of women in the new Iraq.

The autonomy issue is crucial because, for more than a decade, the Kurds have had virtually full autonomy. They even have their own army, which they want to keep. And, by the way, in an unofficial poll in the north taken on Election Day, about nine out of ten Kurds voted for complete independence. So, almost certainly, the Kurds are going to demand all or most of that autonomy, including control over the oil in their region.

Interestingly, the mainly religious Shiites of the south, who apparently won the most seats nation-wide, may actually support the idea of full autonomy for the regions. That would give them control over most of the rest of the oil in the country - and it might give them a chance to impose strict Islamic law in their region alone.

And so, quite apart from the insurgency, this potent combination of ethnicity, religion and oil could easily derail the attempt to create a united, genuinely democratic Iraq. Not only did the election not help to resolve these problems; in fact, the vote underscored Iraq's inherent divisions.

This is Barrie Dunsmore.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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