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Iraqi Official Expresses Optimism About Constitution


Iraq's foreign minister says he believes his country's draft constitution will be approved, once votes are tabulated from Saturday's landmark referendum. The Bush administration is also expressing optimism that, whether the document is approved or not, Iraq's political landscape has been altered for the better.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says he does not believe opponents of the draft constitution managed to garner a two-thirds majority "no" vote in three provinces - the threshold for rejection of the document. Mr. Zebari spoke on CNN's "Late Edition" program.

"All indications (are), we are getting are encouraging and positive: for a 'yes' vote for this constitution. And, this would be, really, a major achievement," he says.

The foreign minister added that voting by the country's disgruntled Sunni Arab population appears to have been greater than the turnout recorded in the country's previous democratic exercise, showing that Sunnis are now part of the political process, and a partner in building the country.

With vote tabulation yet to be completed, U.S. officials are not making any predictions on the outcome of the referendum. But, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, whether the draft constitution is approved or not, democracy in Iraq has been strengthened.

"The important matter is that the Iraqis have in large numbers gone out to vote in this process. The Sunnis are now invested in this process. The base of Iraqi politics has broadened," she says.

Ms. Rice said that Iraqis are increasingly making their voices heard in polling stations, which she described as "bad news for terrorists."

But not everyone is convinced the draft constitution, if approved, will heal Iraq's deep political divisions. Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press" program.

"The [referendum] process is an important one," he says. "We are glad that process took place. But the document itself is a divisive document. Whether it wins or loses, it leaves the political issues unsettled, and that means that, if the constitution passes, they [Iraqis] are back to the drawing board. And if it does not pass, they are back to the drawing board, too."

Mr. Levin repeated his contention that Iraq should be put on notice that American troop levels in their country will be drawn down, as a means of boosting pressure on Iraqis to bridge political gulfs and build national unity.

But Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari argued against setting any deadlines for a U.S. troop withdrawal.

"This will depend a great deal on the Iraqi military and security capabilities. The sooner we achieve that, the sooner U.S. troops could leave. So I really would not put any timeline on that," Mr. Zebari says.

Secretary of State Rice praised the performance of Iraqi security forces during the referendum, noting that fewer attacks on polling places were recorded than during the country's January elections.

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