Iraq's landmark constitution seemed assured of passage after initial results showed that minority Sunni Arabs had fallen short in an effort to veto it at the polls. The apparent acceptance was a major step in the attempt to establish a democratic government that could lead to the withdrawal of US troops.
Opponents failed to secure the necessary two-thirds "no" vote in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces, according to counts that local officials provided on Sunday. In the crucial central provinces with mixed ethnic and religious populations, enough Shiites and Kurds voted to stymie the Sunni bid to reject the constitution.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani issued a decree setting Dec. 15 for Iraqis to vote again, this time to elect a new parliament. If the constitution indeed passed, the first full-term parliament since Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003 will install a new government by Dec. 31. If the charter has failed, the parliament will be tasked with drawing up a new draft on which to vote.
But the outcome could further divide the nation, with many Sunnis fearing the new decentralized government will deprive them of their fair share of the country's vast oil wealth. Large numbers of Sunnis voted "no," and some of their leaders were already rejecting the apparent result.
While a strong Sunni turnout in Saturday's referendum suggested a desire among many to participate in Iraq's new political system, there were fears that anger at being ruled under a constitution they oppose could push some into supporting the Sunni-led insurgency.
"If the constitution was passed, the attacks will definitely rise against the occupation forces and the security situation is going to get worse," said Sheik Abdul-Salam al-Kubaisi, a prominent cleric.
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