MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Back to the Iraqi Constitution now and the thoughts of Ghassan Atiyyah. He's director of a Baghdad think tank called the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy. He's a Shiite who describes himself as a secular liberal. Atiyyah says it will be very difficult for Sunnis to support the constitution as it is, and he predicts they will not be able to muster the votes to defeat it in the coming referendum.
Mr. GHASSAN ATIYYAH (Director, Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy): They are faced with a constitution on the basis, `Take it or leave it.' It's very difficult for them to accept that because there are so many items in it which very difficult for them to stomach and they will lose credibility even among the moderate Sunnis. So they have the option now to vote against it in a referendum. Could the Arab Sunni muster two-thirds majority in three provinces, the Sunni provinces, veto the constitution and dissolve the parliament and bring a new election? I doubt that. Most of the Sunni boycotted the election. They didn't just throw their names in the electoral list. So it is for them only one week left to register their names. Then you have to mobilize them and to get them to the polling boxes. At the time when al-Zarqawi and the extremists and the jihadists threatened them by killing them if they go to the vote or the referendum, and so they will find themselves between the fire and the blue sea, and this will play into the hands of the extremists.
BLOCK: It sounds like what you're saying here is almost two parallel tracks, that a constitution will go through without Sunni approval, that it will pass a referendum in October, that will pave the way for elections in December. But the Sunnis will be out of the process, and extremism will rise as a result.
Mr. ATIYYAH: This is the nightmare scenario. I feel the secular and liberal are the victim of what happened during the last two years. Now the ascendency of religion and even the constitution, there's so many references to Islam to the extent that it is clearly stipulated that any law contradicts Islam will be rejected. And who is the judge as whether it is--contradicts Islam or not? It will be a higher court. So in a sense, you are creating another body like the Iranian body, a special body, the Iranian--which is not elected; it's appointed--which has authority to decide this law is Islamic or not. So are we going into the path of Islamic state in Iraq thanks to the American administration? Is that what the American public expected would happen in Iraq, getting rid of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to be replaced by a theocracy?
BLOCK: Is your fear, Mr. Atiyyah, that your country would be devolving toward a theocratic state?
Mr. ATIYYAH: This is one of the possibilities, one of the scenarios. Now we are at the crossroad. The fact the main forces who are drafting the constitution are the Shia Islamists, who have the backing of Iran as well as the Kurds. The deal between the Kurds and the Shia is very simple. It's to have a federal state by allowing the Kurds have their own way in Kurdistan, and in return, the Shia Muslims will have their way in the south.
BLOCK: Is it your sense that ordinary Iraqis are following this process, debating the fine points of the constitution much as we are now? Is this, say, the talk of the town right now?
Mr. ATIYYAH: Ma'am, believe me, the man on the street, he has no electricity. He is worrying about how to get gas, he is worrying how to get the water, he is worrying how to bring food to the table to his family. He is worrying about security, when to leave. He has no time to think of this (unintelligible) of the constitution. The constitution only today was published in the press, today. Who will read it? Who will care about it? This doesn't mean that the case is hopeless. Our fate is intertwined with American administration; their failure is our failure. But the United States can survive a failure in Iraq, but we Iraqis, a failure means a catastrophe and mean an end of a country.
BLOCK: Mr. Atiyyah, thanks very much for talking with us today.
Mr. ATIYYAH: Thank you, ma'am. Thank you.
BLOCK: Speaking with us from Baghdad, Ghassan Atiyyah, director of a think tank called the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy.
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