- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2005

BAGHDAD — Election officials yesterday released preliminary results of the recent referendum, showing Iraq was on the verge of adopting a new constitution and moving toward the next step in its fledgling democracy — voting later this year for a new four-year government.

With 20 percent of the vote now tallied, the results showed “yes” votes leading in one Sunni province, despite a vigorous “vote no” campaign.

Diyala, considered a swing province because of its large Sunni population, has 51.76 percent voting “yes.”

Another Sunni state, Salahadeen, is rejecting the constitution by a resounding 81.15 percent.

Many Sunnis feel the document caters heavily to the majority Shi’ites and the Kurds.

Despite “some confusion” at the polling stations on Oct. 19, election official Adel al-Lami said the preliminary results of 13 out of 18 provinces had been checked and were considered accurate.

“We did not discover any dangerous violations,” Mr. al-Lami told reporters.

He said most of the complaints had to do with voter lists. The lists were published outside Iraq and came back partly out of alphabetical order, creating confusion at the polling stations.

Officials were still investigating the ballots for five crucial states after extraordinarily high early turnout numbers triggered suspicions of fraud.

The five are the restive western Sunni province of Anbar, Babil, the southern Shi’ite province of Basra, the Kurdish province of Irbil and the mixed Sunni-Kurd province of Nineveh.

“The result from these governorates and audit reports will be presented as part of the final preliminary results scheduled for release early this week,” the Iraqi Electoral Commission said.

If any three states have managed to garner a two-thirds “no” vote, the constitution will be defeated.

The strongest “yes” votes appeared in the southern Shi’ite provinces and northern Kurdish provinces, with 99.11 percent in Dohuk voting for the constitution, and 98.66 saying yes in Muthana province.

Baghdad, which has a mixed population, voted 78.17 percent in favor of the document, with 20 percent of the votes tallied.

Kirkuk, the oil-rich province populated by Kurds, Sunnis and Turkmen, has 62 percent in favor.

The electoral commission, under pains to prove that the elections was free and fair, said it had sent teams of auditors to several provinces “to physically verify the reporting mechanisms and examine the source information.”

In fighting yesterday, U.S. troops and warplanes killed 20 insurgents, many in battles near Iraq’s border with Syria that were sparked by raids on five suspected safe house for foreign terrorists.

Twenty-three U.S. military personnel were reported killed last week, bringing the total of American dead since the war began in March 2003 to 1,996, according to an Associated Press count.

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