Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Expectations for Iraq Downshifting ; Administration Downplays Missed Deadline for Iraqi Constitution, but Political Progress Is Coming Slowly

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Expectations for Iraq Downshifting ; Administration Downplays Missed Deadline for Iraqi Constitution, but Political Progress Is Coming Slowly

Article excerpt

Twenty-eight months after US forces helped pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's Firdos Square, the Bush administration is facing a hard reality: its vision for Iraq's immediate future may need to be scaled back.

For one thing, Baghdad isn't going to be the seat of a new Jeffersonian democracy anytime soon. The transitional government's struggles to draft a new constitution have revealed deep fissures among Iraq's Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites.

The nation's economy isn't soaring either. Estimates of unemployment range from 27 to 40 percent.

Iraqi's security situation hardly needs elucidation. In the US, the media are full of conflicting reports of when American troop withdrawals may occur.

The United States itself, at its founding, took years to become politically stable. The bottom line is that it may be at least that long, if not longer, before it is apparent whether there is any historical equivalence between the Philadelphia of 1776 and the Baghdad of 2005.

"I think it's very fragile. I'm very worried," says Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and a former advisor to the US occupation authority in Iraq.

In Washington, US officials described the Iraqi transitional government's failure to meet its constitution-drafting deadline as a bump in the road, nothing more. President Bush said Monday that he was sure that Iraqi Kurds, Shias, and Sunnis would eventually reach consensus on the remaining issues, and that their continued efforts are "a tribute to democracy."

Under intense US pressure, negotiators could well come up with some kind of eventual compromise, note some critics. But there has been little Iraqi national public debate over the nature of their proposed government, due to tight drafting deadlines and the dire nature of security. And remaining disagreements focus on fundamental aspects of the new Iraq, such as the power of the central government.

The desire of some Shia leaders for a large semi-independent region could well be a deal-breaker, predicts Dr. Diamond, who recently published a book on the US effort to bring democracy to Iraq. Sunnis would be unlikely to accept it, he says, and national disintegration might follow.

"That's how Nigeria fell into civil war in the 1960s," says Diamond.

Meanwhile, statistics bearing on Iraq's reconstruction portray a mixed picture. Insurgent violence is clearly taking an economic toll. …

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