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Iraq Approves Constitution

Election official Farid Ayar announcing the referendum results on 25 October (AFP) Prague, 26 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi voters have overwhelmingly approved the draft constitution in the country's 15 October referendum, according to final results announced by the Independent Election Commission of Iraq.

A majority of voters in all but two governorates approved the charter. The two governorates that voted "no" were solidly Sunni Arab areas.

Looking at Iraq as a whole, the country’s first post-Saddam Hussein constitution won overwhelming popular support in the vote.

Farid Ayar, a member of the Independent Election Commission of Iraq, announced the results in Baghdad yesterday.
"The total of 'yes' votes is 78.59 percent and the 'no' votes [total] is 21.41 percent. These are the final results of the referendum," he said.

Community Loyalties

But the voting pattern showed that support for the constitution depended heavily on the community to which the voter belonged.

Two governorates, Al-Anbar and Salahaddin, voted solidly against the document. Both are in the Sunni heartland of central Iraq where the anti-U.S. insurgency has been strongest.

The Al-Anbar Governorate, which includes the former insurgent stronghold of Al-Fallujah, voted 96 percent against the constitution. Salahaddin, which includes former President Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, voted 81 percent against.

A number of Sunni leaders had called on the community ahead of the referendum to vote against the charter or to boycott the polls.

They particularly objected to the constitution containing the possibility of self-rule for the Shi’ite-majority areas of central and southern Iraq. That would be in line with the self-rule already enjoyed by Kurdish-administered northern Iraq.

Sunni opponents of the constitution argued that self-rule governments in both regions might lead to the breakup of the country or leave the country’s oil wealth in the hands of the Shi’a and Kurds.

Opponents Overmatched

But efforts to mobilize Sunni opposition failed to produce the two-thirds "no" vote needed in at least three Iraqi governorates to defeat the constitution.

The election commission reported that Ninevah Governorate, which has a mixed population with many Sunni Arabs, produced a "no" vote of only 55 percent.

At least one predominantly Sunni party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, reversed its opposition to the constitution just ahead of the 15 October referendum. The party called for supporters to vote "yes" after striking a deal with Shi’ite and Kurdish leaders for a review of the charter after Iraq’s new parliament is elected in mid-December.

The draft constitution received high levels of support from Iraq’s Kurdish and majority Shi’ite communities. Leaders in both communities called for people turn out in high numbers to vote for it.

'Successful' Referendum

The deputy chairwoman of the Independent Election Commission, Hamdiyah al-Husayni, said yesterday that 63 percent of Iraq’s registered voters participated in the referendum.

"Regarding the referendum, it can be assessed now as successful in comparison with the elections of 30 January," she said. "This is because the turnout in these elections was 58 percent while the referendum turnout was 63 percent."

The approval of the constitution marks a major milestone for efforts by U.S. and Iraqi officials to move the country toward a more democratic and popularly supported form of government. It paves the way for now electing a first constitutional government when Iraqis go again to the polls on 15 December.

Had the charter failed to pass, the new parliament to be elected next month would have had only interim powers. It also would have had to try to draft a new constitution.

International Approval

Carina Perelli, who heads the United Nations' electoral assessment mission in Iraq, said today that the balloting adhered to the highest standards and should be trusted.

The European Union also welcomed the results.

U.S. President George W. Bush said later in the day that progress is being achieved in Iraq but warned that the war will require "more sacrifice, more time, and more resolve."

Speaking to military wives at an Air Force base near Washington, Bush cited a larger role being played by Iraqi troops in battling the insurgency and the approval of the country's draft constitution.

"Today, the Iraqi Election Commission certified the passage of the constitution," Bush said. "Many more Sunnis participated in this vote than in January's historic elections, and the level of violence was dramatically lower. With their courageous vote, the Iraqi people have once again proved their determination to build a democracy united against extremism and violence."

Bush's speech came as the death toll for U.S. soldiers in Iraq reached 1,999.

For the latest news and analysis on Iraq, see "The New Iraq" .

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