|Iraq voters approve US-backed constitution|
By Claudia Parsons and Andrew Quinn
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi voters ratified a new U.S.-backed constitution despite bitter opposition in Sunni Arab areas where insurgents are battling to topple the Baghdad government, results showed on Tuesday.
Iraq's Electoral Commission, giving final results from the October 15 referendum, said 79 percent of voters backed the constitution against 21 percent opposed in a poll split largely along Iraq's sectarian and ethnic lines.
Several Shi'ite and Kurdish regions voted between 95 and 99 percent "Yes"; in rebellious, Sunni Anbar 97 percent said "No."
Prominent Sunni Arab leaders rejected the referendum as a fraud, warning it could fuel militant violence and discourage Sunnis from participating in future elections.
U.N. and Iraqi election officials said the vote, which was largely peaceful despite widespread fears of a surge in militant violence, was fair.
The results came as the U.S. military death toll in Iraq rose to 1,999 -- closing on the headline-grabbing 2,000 mark expected to spur new calls for U.S. President George W. Bush to outline an exit strategy for the Iraqi conflict.
Anti-government insurgents, who struck in dramatic fashion on Monday with a triple suicide bomb attack on a Baghdad hotel used by foreign journalists, set off new blasts on Tuesday in Baghdad and the normally tranquil city of Sulaimaniya, killing at least 15 people in total.
Al Qaeda in Iraq said on Tuesday it was behind the Baghdad hotel attack, according to a Web posting.
The referendum's final results showed that only two of Iraq's 18 provinces, the insurgent stronghold of Anbar in the west and Saddam Hussein's home region of Salahaddin, had mustered a "No" vote of at least two-thirds -- one short of the three provinces necessary to veto the measure.
The northern province of Nineveh, thought to represent a third possible "No" due to its large population of Sunni Arabs, ended up with only 55 percent of voters rejecting the charter.
Commission spokesman Farid Ayar rejected suggestions that the results had been tampered with, pointing to the lengthy audit of balloting before the results were announced.
"We didn't invent these figures. It took us a long time to get them," he told a news conference.
BOOST FOR WASHINGTON
Passage of the constitution is a boost for Washington and the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led government in Baghdad, paving the way for a parliamentary election on December 15 that both hope will mark Iraq's emergence as a stable, federal democracy.
But much will depend on Sunni Arabs, who represent 20 percent of Iraq's population and have fought the charter as a plot to deprive them of power and access to Iraq's oil wealth in Shi'ite- and Kurdish-dominated areas.
"Politics is linked directly to security on the ground. The situation can only get worse now," said Hussein al-Falluji, part of a Sunni team that negotiated the constitution, told Reuters, describing the results as a "fraud."
Another Sunni politician, Saleh Mutlaq, said the vote could backfire on government efforts to defuse the insurgency by persuading Sunnis they have no role in the political process.
A top U.N. election specialist, Carina Perelli, said she was confident the election had not been fixed: "The result is accurate. It has been checked according to the processes that we all follow when we have elections."
But U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's representative in Baghdad, Ashraf Qazi, said the poll once again demonstrated how dangerously polarized Iraq has become.
Both the United States and Britain have sought to ease Sunni fears by emphasizing that the constitution can be amended after the new parliament is elected -- an enticement for Sunni groups to field candidates and make their voices heard.
Proof of insurgent anger was displayed again this week with the bombing of Baghdad's Palestine and Sheraton hotels, the base for several international media organizations and a symbol of the foreign presence in the capital since the 2003 invasion.
The bombings, at dusk in front of rolling television cameras that guaranteed global media coverage, broke a relative lull in insurgent violence over the past two weeks.
Body parts were still strewn outside the hotel complex on Tuesday morning after the blast, which police said killed at least 12 Iraqis and injured 22.
On Tuesday, a suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. military convoy in Baghdad, killing one civilian and injuring five, police said. A roadside bomb exploded near a Baghdad hospital, killing one person and injuring another.
In the northern city of Sulaimaniya -- a Kurdish area rarely troubled by the violence of the past two years -- another car bomb killed at least 12 people, hospital sources said, while a separate bomb attack killed a politician's bodyguard.
The official U.S. death toll in Iraq increased by two to 1,999 on Tuesday as the military announced that two marines had been killed last week by a roadside bomb.
|QUOTE (neo @ Oct 25 2005, 05:10 PM)|
| I think this is both good and bad. If the vote would have failed it would have been a major setback for the political process. I think it is good that it passed.|
The bad part is that Sunnis still do not feel that they are part of the political process. I think all parties need to work harder on the constitution so that Sunnis feel an equal part of Iraq. If they do not then there will be an ongoing civil war. I think the US coalition needs to stay long enough for the majority in Iraq to fight terror on their own. At that point I think some forces will need to remain to continue to train and to prevent invasion by Iran or Syria. These forces should not engage in combat except in defense.
Just my opinion.