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Iraqi Referendum Reversal Opens Way for Inclusive Constitution


Iraq's National Assembly has reversed last-minute changes it made to rules for next week's referendum on a new constitution, restoring the original voting rules. The latest move follows pressure from the United States and the United Nations -- and complaints from the Assembly's Sunni minority.

Employees of Iraq's Trade Ministry were among the first Iraqi citizens to see the nation’s draft constitution. With just ten days to go before a national referendum October 15th, ministry officials handed out copies of the document to employees for distribution across Iraq.

Members of Iraq's National Assembly have been wrangling over the voting procedures for the referendum for several weeks. After a brief debate Wednesday, the Assembly voted 119-to-28 to restore the original rules, which means that Sunnis can veto the constitution by getting a two-thirds "no" vote in three provinces, even if the charter wins majority approval nationwide.

On Sunday, the Shi’ite-dominated parliament changed the rules, saying it should be two-thirds of all registered voters in three provinces. Since many Sunnis did not register to vote, the change would have virtually guaranteed approval of the constitution.

The revision drew criticism from Sunni lawmakers. U.S. and United Nations officials began pressing Iraqi legislators behind the scenes to restore the original voting rules, fearing a Sunni boycott that would undermine the vote's credibility.

The U.N. said the change was a violation of international standards. Many Sunnis oppose the charter and want it re-written, believing it will divide Iraq, leaving Shi’ites in the south and Kurds in the north with control over the nation's oil revenues.

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