A good rundown of the ins and outs of the Iraqi Constitution shows up in the New York Times today.

The process to come up with the first draft has been strained at best. The Sunnis, who are a minority party, don’t like the current draft and could very possibly vote for a new draft in October. And as columnist Noah Feldman points out, that may not be such a bad thing.

In fact, a new draft could prevent civil war.

In the end, placing Sunnis on the constitution committee despite the electoral results in January, then pressuring them to do a deal, was an approach that backfired: ignoring them when their views could not be reconciled sent a strong message to average Sunnis that politics is useless if you are in the minority.

Although things look bad today, the game is not yet quite over. Should the constitution be rejected on Oct. 15, everyone can head back to the negotiation table and try again. In fact, the worst outcome might be a passage of the draft despite widespread rejection by Sunni voters. While it is apparently too late to change the text, Shiites and Kurds can still reach out to Sunni voters and try to convince them that they would flourish under the constitution. This would require a few public concessions, including commitments not to form a southern mega-region that leaves the impoverished Sunnis trapped between de facto Shiite and Kurdish states.

A constitution is just a piece of paper, no better than the underlying consensus – or lack thereof – that it memorializes. If Iraq adopts a constitution that reflects a profound and unresolved national split, violence and eventual division of the nation will follow. Ordinary Iraqis and American soldiers will be the losers. So will the ideal of constitutional government.

Politics More On Iraqi Constitution