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Iraqi Voters Ratify Constitution; December Elections to Follow


Voters in Iraq have adopted a new constitution, which will bring national elections in December and formally end the democratic transition launched after the fall of deposed President Saddam Hussein. Election officials announced the final results of last week's constitutional referendum.

Iraqi election officials said final results showed that three-fourths (78 percent) of the voters approved the new constitution and 20 percent voted against it.

But they also said that the Sunni-Arab minority, which opposed the constitution, narrowly missed defeating the document. The charter would have been defeated if two-thirds of the voters in three provinces rejected it.

The constitution was overwhelmingly rejected in two provinces, al-Anbar and Salahuddin, by 81 percent and 96 percent respectively. It was also rejected in a third province, Ninevah, but by 55 percent, 12 percentage points less than the necessary two-thirds majority.

Election official Farid Ayar, speaking through an interpreter, said the referendum was a step that puts Iraq on the road to democracy.

"It is an accomplishment for all the Iraqis because when Iraqis practice democratic rights, they are using mind and reason instead of violence and weapons," he said.

The majority Shiite Arabs and the independence-minded Kurds overwhelmingly supported the new constitution, which grants their oil-rich regions considerable autonomy.

But Sunni Arabs, who dominated government under Saddam Hussein, opposed the new constitution fearing it could lead to the break up of the country.

The spokesman of the Sunni-led National Dialogue Council, Saleh al-Mutlaq, said his group rejects the referendum results.

"We will try to work on the same basis on the political process, but our [Sunni leaders] position will be weak, because we managed to convince people to come to the political process and they saw the results, that there is no value for their voices," he said.

But the leader of the Shiite-led, Capable Independence Group, Ali al-Dabbagh, said that in a democracy the minority must learn to accept the will of the majority.

"We respect your 'no.' We do not want to exclude you from the political process," he said. "But you should understand that when the majority decides, you should respect that majority."

The new constitution calls for national elections in December. Many Iraqis hope it will ease the violence that has killed thousands of people since the fall of Saddam Hussein. But others fear that it will only worsen security.

More than 100 people have been killed in a wave of attacks since the referendum, including at least 17 in a car bombing at two hotels Monday in Baghdad. In addition, U.S. military officials announced the death of four American soldiers in recent days, bringing the death toll from the U.S. military presence in Iraq to nearly 2,000.

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