Sun, Oct 16, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Iraqis head to polls on constitution

CONTROVERSIAL DOCUMENT Amid insurgent attacks that left at least four dead, the country weighed in on a constitution, albeit one still subject to further revision

AFP , BAGHDAD

Iraqis wait their turn to vote yesterday in a referendum on a new constitution at a polling station in Al Zubayr, just outside Basra in southern Iraq.

PHOTO: AFP

Iraqis voted yesterday on a new constitution that turns a page on the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein, but insurgents struck at polling stations despite a massive security clampdown, killing four people.

Around 15.5 million Iraqis are registered to vote on the charter, which lays out a democratic framework for a new Iraq but has sharply divided the country on ethnic lines and was only drafted after weeks of tortuous negotiations.

"I think the majority [of all Iraqis] will vote yes," said Kurdish President Jalal Talabani after he cast his ballot inside Baghdad's heavily-protected Green Zone.

Simple question

In the country's second national vote since Saddam was toppled by US-led invasion forces in April 2003, Iraqis are being asked a single question: "Do You Approve the Draft Constitution of Iraq?"

However, under a deal hammered out only on Wednesday, voters are deciding on what is effectively a partial constitution after political leaders agreed further revisions could be considered after new elections in December, in a bid to bring the disaffected Sunni minority on board.

Many Sunnis, who make up about 20 percent of Iraq's 26 million population, fear federal provisions in the charter could lead to the break-up of Iraq and leave control of its vast oil wealth in the hands of the majority Shiites and the Kurds.

"Sunni Arab brothers should understand that their aspirations will be achieved through political action and not violence and terrorist acts," Talabani told the private Asharqia television channel on Friday.

Bomb blast

Despite a raft of security measures, including a ban on cars and weapons and the closure of international borders, three Iraqi soldiers were killed in a bomb blast as they inspected a polling station northeast of the capital.

West of Baghdad, a civilian was shot dead during an attack on police near a polling station.

Several stations in Baghdad were also fired upon Friday and yesterday despite the heightened security, and a sabotage attack on a power line cut electricity to the capital and the main southern city of Basra, plunging both into darkness late on Friday.

Cars and pedestrians were largely absent from Baghdad streets, creating the eerie feel of a baking ghost town in a city of six million people.

US presence

US combat helicopters patrolled the skies over the capital, launching green and red flares, while Iraqi soldiers stood guard at polling stations fortified with concrete barricades.

"Today we are in transition, we are about to attain political stability built on a constitutional foundation," Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari told reporters.

The charter requires a simple majority to be approved, but would be rejected if two-thirds of the votes in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces say "no."

Results should be known within three days, chief electoral official Adil al-Lami said.

In Baghdad, dozens of men and women who travelled on foot to vote entered the polling stations in separate lines. Squads of policemen checked identity papers and searched voters once about 200m away and a second time just outside the station. US soldiers performed a third perimeter check.

The constitution "represents hope for Iraq even if some things are missing which will be addressed later," said Jamil Musawi, a voter in the town of Kut south of Baghdad.

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