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Iraq Counts Ballots In Vote That Brought Out Sunnis

An Iraqi soldier guards scores of Iraqis standing in line outside a polling station in the restive Sunni Muslim city of Mosul, 15 October 2005. Armed men with assault rifles warned civilians that a polling station would be attacked, and handed out leaflets depicting a donkey (ass) voting in front of a figure of Uncle Sam in a bid to disrupt the voting process. Voting in Iraq's referendum Saturday on a draft constitution is going well, with even volatile regions reporting that polling stations were up and running, the UN special envoy said. AFP photo by Mujaheed Mohammed.

Baghdad (AFP) Oct 16, 2005
Iraqi officials on Sunday tackled piles of ballot papers from a historic referendum on a new constitution after a strong but peaceful turnout that drew many Sunni Arabs back into the political process.

Some early estimates from Sunni-dominated provinces deemed crucial to the vote suggested they might be split, but members of the Iraqi independent electoral commission in Baghdad urged media to wait until official figures were released.

An initial forecast of the result might be available within two days, with an unofficial tally on Thursday and a final announcement on October 24, though that timeframe could change, senior electoral official Farid Ayyar said.

Over 60 percent of the 15.5 million Iraqi voters were estimated to have cast their ballots, and Saturday was in large part spared the violence that marred elections in January.

In London, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters the constitution had "probably passed", but later adopted a position of wait and see.

"Whatever happens with the referendum, the Iraqi people clearly are taking advantage of the political process to make their views known, and that's bad news for the terrorists," she told Fox television.

Attention focused on members of the Sunni Arab minority, many of whom fear domination by Shiite and Kurdish regions and the loss of crucial oil revenues since Sunni areas contain few of Iraq's vast crude fields.

Sunnis -- among whom insurgents have freely circulated -- turned out in droves to vote, said AFP reporters in Fallujah, Mosul, and Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

The charter requires a simple majority for approval but will be rejected if a two-thirds majority in at least three of the country's 18 provinces vote "no".

In the Sunni-dominated province of Salaheddin, which includes Tikrit, election official Saleh Khalil Farraj told AFP that 71 percent of voters had voted 'no'.

In Diyala, where Sunnis are also in the majority, the local election commission indicated that 66 percent had voted 'yes'.

The figures were contested by officials at the commission's headquarters in Baghdad, however.

Results from the other Sunni-dominated provinces, volatile Al-Anbar, and Nineveh, were eagerly awaited, since Shiites and Kurds who were oppressed during Saddam's reign were expected to have approved the constitution.

Iraqis were congratulated by leaders worldwide. In Washington US President George W. Bush said: "This is a very positive day for the Iraqis, and as well as for world peace."

He added: "I congratulate the Iraqi people, I thank you for meeting this milestone, I thank you for doing what is right to set the foundation for peace for future generations to come."

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari also hailed his compatriots, telling state-owned al-Iraqiya television: "We salute those who took part in the referendum, regardless of whether they voted 'yes' or 'no'."

Jaafari expressed "hope that the operation will be crowned with success," adding, "we look forward to elections scheduled for December 15 to complete the process."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in London: "What this referendum shows is the hunger of Iraqis to exercise the same rights that the rest of us have, democratic rights, and to defy the terrorists."

The constitution is likely to be quickly amended once a new round of general elections are held, and professor Juan Cole from the University of Michigan described the document as "fluid and changing".

"It is not even necessarily parliament that changes it ... It is the clan and community leaders," he told AFP, since a last minute deal on the draft had been spearheaded by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and approved by leaders of Shiite and Sunni groups before being rubber-stamped by lawmakers.

"This vote is sort of a national vote of confidence for that leadership," Cole said.

Russia pledged full assistance to help Iraq in "building and strengthening its new statehood".

Baghdad University professor Abdul Jabbar Ahmed told AFP that the European Union and United Nations should also become actively involved. He stressed however that the EU and UN must "declare their independence" from US policies.

All who sought to help Iraq should now "negotiate with all Iraqi groups without distinction," he said. "They must negotiate with those that resist and crush the terrorists."

Chronic insurgent violence was sharply curbed during the vote, with six Iraqis initially reported killed in various attacks and five US soldiers later reported killed in Ramadi, the restive capital of Al-Anbar province.

A US marine also died from his wounds on Saturday following an attack in the nearby town of Saqlawiyah, the military said.

Thirty-six people were killed during Iraq's legislative election on January

Approval of the draft constitution would pave the way for parliamentary elections in December, which the Bush administration hopes will help weaken insurgents and allow a gradual drawdown of the 140,000 US troops deployed in Iraq.

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Iraq Vote Holds Many Possible Outcomes
Baghdad (UPI) Oct 15, 2005
Don't believe anyone who says they can predict either the outcome or the ramifications of Saturday's referendum on the new constitution for Iraq. The permutations are too complex to foresee, each pointing down twisting paths toward eventual stability or an outright civil war.







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