October 26, 2005: The new constitution was approved by 78 percent of the ten million Iraqis who voted. It took nearly two weeks to count all the votes. Most of the 22 percent who rejected it were Sunni Arabs, who turned out in large numbers. The Sunni Arabs indicate that they will turn out in large numbers again in December for the parliamentary elections. The Kurds and Shia Arabs agreed to allow further changes in the constitution once parliament is in session, so the Sunnis want to make sure they are heard. The Sunni Arabs are most afraid of being cut off from the oil money (nearly all the oil is in areas controlled by Kurds and Shia Arabs, and the new constitution gives local authorities first dibs on oil revenue). In the past, the Sunni Arabs had kept most of the oil revenue for themselves, and they miss it. Also up for negotiation are how many Sunni Arabs will be punished for crimes committed during the three decades of Baath Party (a largely Sunni Arab organization run by Saddam Hussein) rule. Millions of Shia Arabs and Kurds want revenge for murders and other atrocities committed, by Sunni Arabs, against friends and family.
Meanwhile, some Sunni Arabs are determined to get back power the old fashioned way, with force and terror. To that end, Al Qaeda staged a spectacular attack on the Palestine hotel on October 25th. Three car bombs were used, plus gunmen on foot. The whole thing was caught on a network of security cameras. Two car bombs were used to blast a breach in the concrete security wall, then a bomb filled cement truck was to go through the breach, detonate next to the hotel, and create sufficient havoc for over a dozen gunmen to enter and take foreign journalists hostage, and thus create a major publicity event. The attack failed. The cement truck got stuck in the rubble at the breach, and Iraqi, civilian and American security troops quickly responded to the attack. An American sniper shot the driver of the cement truck, which led to the suicide bomber detonating the explosives while the cement truck was stuck in the breach. Some twenty people were killed in the attack, mainly al Qaeda and civilians who just happened to be in the area. Al Qaeda later took credit for the elaborate attack, and tried to salvage something from it. But the attack was a spectacular failure, and only adds to al Qaedas image woes. The terrorists are seen as an insensitive (all those dead Moslem civilians) and inept (all those failed attacks) bunch of fanatics (all those improbable plans for world domination.) Iraqi Sunni Arabs have been, in the last year, backing away in their support for al Qaeda. Part of it is practical, because al Qaeda is seen as a bunch of homicidal losers. There are also nationalistic, political, religious and ideological reasons as well. Iraqi Sunni Arabs have a high opinion of themselves, being the best educated group in Iraq, and the descendants of those who founded one of the world's first civilizations. The al Qaeda crew are largely supported, and staffed, by wealthy Gulf Arabs, especially Saudi Arabians. The Saudis are seen, by the Iraqis, as newly rich nomads, a bunch of camel jockey bumpkins taken by an extreme form of Islam (Wahhabism) that even most Saudis don't much care for. Iraqi Sunni Arabs are also not really keen on being just another province in the al Qaeda world Islamic religious dictatorship. Islamic conservative Iraqi Sunni Arabs prefer to practice Islam their way, not the al Qaeda or Wahhab way.
Without their Sunni Arab support, the largely foreign al Qaeda operatives are more vulnerable, and more of them are getting picked up each month. There are still hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs who will support al Qaeda by either keeping silent (when the cops come looking for information), or providing shelter and information. But most Iraqis see al Qaeda for what they are, killers of anyone who gets in their way, with a plan most Iraqis do not want any part of.