- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush yesterday portrayed Iraqis’ vote on a new constitution as a victory for opponents of terrorism and a sign that the country was moving toward a democracy.

“The vote today in Iraq is in stark contrast to the attitude, the philosophy and strategy of al Qaeda and its terrorist friends and killers,” the president said.

Earlier in London, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that violence will continue in Iraq even if the constitution is approved, but that support for the insurgency will wane in the march toward democracy.

“Al Qaeda wants to use their violent ways to stop the march to progress,” Mr. Bush said upon his arrival at the White House after a weekend at Camp David.

“We believe, and the Iraqis believe, that the best way forward is through the democratic process,” he said. The president did not take questions from reporters.

Mr. Bush congratulated Iraqis for successfully completing the balloting, saying that by all indications, the turnout and Sunni participation were greater, and violence was less prevalent, than in January when Iraqis elected a temporary government.

After months of difficult negotiations over the proposed constitution, the president grabbed the opportunity to speak to what he said was an important step for the Middle Eastern nation.

Iraq’s constitution seemed assured of passage yesterday, despite strong opposition from Sunni Arabs who voted in surprisingly high numbers in an effort to stop it. The constitution’s apparent victory was muted, though, by the prospect that the result might divide the country further.

Millions of Iraqis voted Saturday on a charter that is a milestone for establishing a government in the majority-Arab nation more than two years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Initial vote counts in provinces dominated by Sunni Arabs, considered the constitution’s strongest opponents, were showing surprising support for the charter. Final, official results were not expected for days.

If the constitution fails, a new one must be drafted by a new parliament, to be elected in December. If the draft passes, a new parliament also will be elected and a new government selected — the first permanent, fully constitutional government in Iraq since Saddam’s ouster.

In a less optimistic assessment, the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, called the constitution a divisive document that, even if approved, leaves key political issues unsettled, such as autonomy for certain regions.

“That means the political unity, which is absolutely essential to defeat the insurgency, does not exist in Iraq,” Mr. Levin told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Levin said he thinks that at least 50,000 of the 150,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq will be sent home by November elections next year in the U.S. By then, he said, either Iraqi troops will be able to defend their country well enough to allow U.S. troop reductions or Iraqi politicians will have refused or failed to make the political progress necessary.


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