Saturday, December 25, 2004



The Bush administration is talking to Iraqi leaders about guaranteeing Sunni Arabs a certain number of ministries or high-level jobs in the future Iraqi government if, as is widely predicted, Sunni candidates fail to do well in Iraq's elections.

An even more radical step, one that a Western diplomat said was raised already with an aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, is the possibility of adding some of the top vote-getters among the Sunni candidates to the 275-member legislature, even if they lose to non-Sunni candidates.

The diplomat said even some Shiite politicians who are followers of Ayatollah Sistani are concerned that a Pyrrhic victory by Shiites, effectively shutting Sunni Arabs out of power, could alienate Sunnis and lead to more internal strife. Shiites make up about 60 percent of Iraqis and were generally denied power under Saddam Hussein.

The idea of adding Sunnis to the legislature after the election was acknowledged by officials as likely to be difficult to carry out, but they said it might be necessary to avoid Sunni estrangement. Sunnis Arabs make up about 20 percent of the population and formed the core of Saddam Hussein's power structure. Much of the violent insurgency is taking place in Sunni-dominated areas in the central part of the country, and some Sunni leaders have called for a boycott of the election. This has led to fears that large numbers of Sunnis will obey the call or be afraid to vote.

"There's some flexibility in approaching this problem," said an administration official. "There's a willingness to play with the end result - not changing the numbers, but maybe guaranteeing that a certain number of seats go to Sunni areas even if their candidates did not receive a certain percentage of the vote."

The idea of altering election results is so sensitive that administration officials who spoke about it did not want their names revealed. Some experts on Iraq say such talk could undercut efforts to drum up support for voting in Sunni areas.

Guaranteeing a certain number of positions in government for certain ethnic groups is not without precedent, though. Lebanon, for example, has a power-sharing arrangement among its main sectarian groups. The Parliament in Iran has seats reserved for religious minorities.

Joking aside, there's nothing wrong with this. "Democracy" does not mean mob 50%+1 majority rules all. Minority rights should be protected in various ways specific to the country, including perphaps a little affirmative action in representation.

But, consider the howls from the right when such things are proposed here, except when they tend to benefit rural white voters. Imagine the bursting blood vessels on George Will's forehead if someone proposed instituting proportional racial representation, or even suggested interesting ideas to encourage more minority representation in government...