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Iraqi Sunnis Protest Draft Constitution


Sunni leaders in Iraq are vowing to defeat the country's new draft constitution in a nationwide referendum. Hundreds of Sunnis took to the streets in Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit, to protest against the document.

The protest came the day after Iraq's new constitution was presented to parliament without the endorsement of Sunni negotiators.

The demonstrators denounced the federal system proposed in the draft constitution, calling it an Israeli plot to divide Iraq along ethnic and religious lines.

In Baghdad, the head of the largest Sunni political party, Tariq al-Hashimi of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said the document was submitted to parliament against the will of Sunni negotiators and "in the absence of the principle of agreement."

He says, "With great sorrow, I say this draft does not meet our aspirations, and it does not reflect the burdens of the Iraqi people."

A number of Sunni Arab leaders have urged their followers to vote against the constitution in a nationwide referendum scheduled for October 15.

The document needs to be approved by 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces. If two-thirds of the voters in any three provinces reject it, Iraq will have to hold new parliamentary elections and start re-writing the constitution from scratch. Several of the more radical Shi'ite clerics, including Moqtada al-Sadr, have also condemned the draft, which could mute some Shi'ite support for it at the polls.

Mr. al-Hashimi said he will be pressuring the National Assembly to change the draft before the referendum, in order to earn Sunni backing.

He says, "This is the opinion of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which will make every political effort to revise the articles [of the constitution] so it can meet the country's greater interests and the current and future needs of the Iraqi people."

Mr. al-Hashimi indicated that his party could approve of the document if the disputed sections are changed.

In addition to federalism, Sunni Arabs object to the constitution on the grounds that it fails to identify Iraq as an explicitly Arab state, saying instead that Iraq's Arab people are a part of the Arab world. The second-largest group in the National Assembly is the non-Arab Kurdish bloc based in the north.

The Sunni Arabs also object to the banning of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party, saying it could prompt a witch hunt for former Ba'athists, many of whom are Sunni.

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