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Shi'ite Cleric Urges Iraqis To Vote 'Yes'

Al-Sistani (file photo) 13 October 2005 -- Prominent Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is urging Iraqis to vote "Yes" in the country's 15 October referendum on a draft constitution.

Al-Sistani's call was publicized after the Iraqi parliament yesterday approved a set of last-minute amendments to the draft constitution in a compromise aimed at increasing participation by Sunni Arabs in the referendum.

The changes, agreed during closed-door talks between Shi'ites, Kurds, and Sunni Arabs, would allow possible revisions to the constitution to be considered after Iraqi parliamentary elections in December.

One Sunni group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, has agreed to back a "Yes" vote in the referendum in return for the promise of a review of the constitution -- but other leaders from the minority Sunni community continue to oppose the charter.

The United States, whose envoys were involved in the negotiations, welcomed the amendments to the draft constitution, with the White House calling it a positive step.