Iraq Charter Ratified by Big Margin in Final Tally
Iraqi voters have ratified a new constitution by a margin of nearly 4 to 1, election officials announced Tuesday as complete returns showed that the country’s disaffected Sunni Arab minority had narrowly failed to muster enough no votes in three provinces to block the charter’s adoption.
The result, declared 10 days after a nationwide referendum, raised cries of protest from some Sunni leaders, who had claimed that the count was rigged. But Iraqi election officials and United Nations monitors said a selective recount turned up no significant incidents of fraud.
Shiite Muslim and Kurdish politicians who lead Iraq’s coalition government hailed the passage of the U.S.-backed charter, and President Bush declared in Washington that “the Iraqi people have once again proved their determination to build a democracy united against extremism and violence.”
But their oft-stated message that the new charter would help isolate the Sunni-led insurgency was drowned out by guerrilla attacks, including car bombings that killed at least seven people in the usually calm Kurdish city of Sulaymaniya.
That violence came a day after a triple car-bomb attack on the Palestine Hotel, one of the most complex and coordinated assaults insurgents have staged in Baghdad. The hotel houses many Western journalists, but the 17 people reported killed in the evening bombings were Iraqis -- most of them hotel guards and passersby.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari said the attacks Monday night and Tuesday were timed to the announcement of voting results and meant to signal the rebels’ rejection of the constitution.
“These terrorists are going to take their last breath before they vanish,” Jafari told reporters.
Iraq has been run since June 2004 by two transitional governments under an interim constitution drafted with the help of American and British officials.
The new, Iraqi-drafted charter calls for the Dec. 15 election of a National Assembly that will sit for four years and appoint a government that U.S. officials and many Iraqis hope can confront the insurgency more effectively.
Sunni Muslim Arabs, who make up about one-fifth of the country’s population, voted overwhelmingly against the charter.
Their leaders fear that the loose federal structure it enshrines will give rise to strong, oil-rich mini-states in the Kurdish north and predominantly Shiite south, making permanent the Sunnis’ loss of power since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led regime.
Returns made public Tuesday by the Independent Electoral Commission underscored the country’s sharp division along ethnic and sectarian lines.
Voters in each of the three northern provinces dominated by Kurds favored the constitution by margins of 99 to 1.
In each of the nine predominantly Shiite provinces in the south, the yes votes accounted for more than 94% of the total.
Thanks to Shiites and Kurds, the charter passed in mixed provinces. It drew 78% support in Baghdad, 63% in Al Tamim and 51% in Diyala. The nationwide yes vote was 78.59%.
Sunni majorities in the three remaining provinces voted against the constitution but not in numbers large enough to defeat it.
Under the electoral law, a two-thirds no vote in three or more provinces would have doomed the proposed charter. The next parliament would have been limited to a one-year term and given a mandate to start over.
Foes of the draft mustered a 97% no vote in Al Anbar province, the heartland of the insurgency, and 82% rejected the charter in Salahuddin, Hussein’s home province.
But they fell short of the two-thirds benchmark in Nineveh province, which has a large Sunni Arab population and provides strong support for the insurgency but also has a sizable Kurdish minority. The official count in Nineveh was 45% yes and 55% no.
Saleh Mutlak, a Sunni spokesman for the National Dialogue Council, branded the official returns “a major fraud.” He cited claims by his group’s election monitors that the no vote exceeded 80% in Nineveh but was changed after government security forces moved ballot boxes to a provincial counting center in Mosul.
The Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the few Sunni groups that endorsed the constitution, issued a statement saying that it too suspected “manipulation of ballot boxes” in Nineveh.
However, Farid Ayar, a spokesman for the electoral commission, said the group’s recount of selected ballot boxes in Nineveh and three other provinces “found no cases of fraud that could affect the result of the vote.”
“The result is accurate,” said Carina Perelli, head of the United Nations team that gave technical assistance to Iraqi election officials. “It has been checked according to the processes that we all follow when we have elections.”
While questioning the results, Sunni political leaders said they were looking beyond the referendum and preparing for the parliamentary elections in December.
In its statement Tuesday, the Iraqi Islamic Party called on Sunni voters to elect a strong parliamentary bloc that would push for amending the constitution next year. Days before the Oct. 15 referendum, the party won concessions making it easier to introduce amendments.
Sunni voters registered a big turnout in the referendum. Election officials said 63% of Iraq’s voters, or 9.8 million people, cast ballots, more than the 58% that participated in the parliamentary elections in January. The increase appeared to come from Sunni voters, who largely boycotted the earlier round.
“The referendum was a strike against the insurgents by Iraqi people who insist on using their votes instead of weapons and violence,” said Jawad Maliki, a Shiite member of the transitional National Assembly.
“The next strike will be when Iraqis take part in elections to choose the leaders to complete the rebuilding of the country.”
In Sulaymaniya on Tuesday, two suicide bombers rammed their cars into a Kurdish politician’s convoy, killing one person in the fiery explosion.
An hour later and about a mile away, a swerving minivan exploded near the entry to a government office with Kurdish militiamen inside, killing at least six of them.
At least six other people -- two soldiers, three policemen and a 7-year-old boy -- died in insurgent violence around Iraq.