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Top US Diplomat Says UN Checking Iraqi Referendum Results

A top U.S. diplomat says officials from the United Nations are checking results from Iraq's constitutional referendum for compliance with internationally accepted standards. The State Department's coordinator for Iraq, Ambassador James Jeffrey, says the examination could delay the release of the results for several days.

Ambassador Jeffrey told a news briefing in Washington that the vote Saturday on the Iraqi constitution was a great day for democracy and a very bad day for terrorists who tried to disrupt the election.

Mr. Jeffrey says, compared to legislative elections last January, at least a million more Iraqis went to the polls to vote in the referendum.

He says U.N. officials are examining the results of the election in those areas where votes for or against the document exceed 90 percent.

"There are additional checks that the United Nations is making now based upon, and you all have seen the stories, the standard rule that whenever you get more than a 90 percent [vote] one way or another in a vote, you need to go in and check the tally sheets and such and the U.N. is doing that," he said. "That may take several more days."

Ambassador Jeffrey says U.S. officials have seen far fewer reports of voting irregularities in the referendum than in the January elections.

Many Sunni Arabs opposed the draft constitution and some Sunni leaders have made allegations of voter fraud.

Some television video from polling centers appears to show Iraqis checking off more than one ballot.

Ambassador Jeffrey says the current debate in Iraq over the constitution is to be expected in a democracy.

"You said that people are polarized, people are arguing with each other, people are taking up positions," he said. "Some of that is true. But a lot of that is what happens in a democratic system, particularly one under a great deal of stresses and strains. We see this in other countries. This is not necessarily a bad sign that people are speaking out, that they are expressing their desires, their concerns and their fears."

Mr. Jeffrey also called for a change in Syria's behavior, saying Damascus must stop insurgents from crossing the border into Iraq.

"The bottom line for us, for the Iraqis and for the international community is, and should be, the Syrians doing everything possible to stop the flood of foreign fighters, many of them suicide bombers, who flow into Iraq from Syria and, in many cases, devastate civilians and market places and mosques on the streets with absolutely senseless violence," he said. "That has to be stopped. We are looking for a change in Syrian behavior. We have not yet seen it and we are impatient."

Ambassador Jeffrey says insurgents in Iraq are pursuing what he calls a "transnational horrific dream."

He says the emerging political process in Iraq is an important element in defeating the insurgency.