- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

BAGHDAD — Final referendum results show Iraqis emphatically approved a new constitution, putting their country on a firm democratic footing and setting the stage for crucial legislative elections in just seven weeks, officials said yesterday.

“This opens a new page for a better future for Iraq,” said President Jalal Talabani’s chief spokesman, upon hearing the results.

“It is a very important step in the formation of a final democratic, united Iraq, and is the path for a more politically stable Iraq,” said Kameron Karadaghi.

Mr. Talabani was in the Kurdish north when the results were announced and was headed back to Baghdad yesterday evening.

The political milestone, while welcome, has yet to make a difference at the street level, where bombs and gunfire attacks helped push the U.S. military death toll in 2 years of fighting to 2,000 and left few Iraqis in a mood to celebrate.

In Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi military foot patrols conducted house-to-house searches yesterday in the wake of three suicide bomb attacks a day earlier aimed at hotels popular with expatriates.

News reports in Iraq and the region were generally matter-of-fact about the approval of the Oct. 15 referendum, and most noted charges of fraud from some Sunni leaders.But an American defense consultant who spent all of 2004 in Fallujah, arguably the most dangerous city in Iraq, contrasted the price paid by U.S. forces in the country with what is being achieved.

“It is important that the American people understand that the U.S. military presence has made a difference in these people’s lives,” said the consultant, who asked that his name not be used for security reasons.

Approval of the constitution was an extremely important step, but not the final one, he said. “We can’t just bail out. The democratic process that the document has put in place in time will be worth the cost to our nation.”

Altogether, 78 percent of voters supported the charter and 21 percent voted against it, with voting breaking down largely on ethnic lines. “Yes” votes ran as high as 99 percent in exclusively Kurdish and Shi’ite provinces, while in Anbar province, a Sunni stronghold, the vote was 97 percent “no.”

Special teams including U.N. observers audited the results in several provinces as a result of lopsided outcomes and suspiciously high turnouts, but those tallies were confirmed. “These results are correct 100 percent,” said a pleased Election Commissioner Farid Ayer.

Nevertheless, a few Sunni leaders continued to call for a new vote to be held under international supervision in several provinces.

“We believe the results have been forged in Mosul, Diyala and most southern Iraqi governorates,” said Salih al-Mutlaq of the Iraqi National Dialogue Council in an interview with Al Jazeera.

A two-thirds “no” vote in any three provinces would have sunk the charter. That threshold was crossed in two Sunni-dominated provinces, but in ethnically mixed Nineveh — the only other province where a majority rejected the constitution — the “no” vote was only 55 percent.

Backers of the charter immediately began looking ahead to elections in mid-December for a permanent National Assembly, one of whose first tasks will be to establish a committee to consider amendments to the new constitution.

“This is the first step,” said assembly member Zakia Hakki, one of the few women involved in drafting the charter. “We need to leave aside negotiations with weapons and sit down at the table and discuss our difficulties.”

Mrs. Hakki bears a limp from an assassination attempt last year, but said she would not be deterred from seeking re-election. “We have already paid a tremendous price,” she said.

Moderate Sunni leaders, whose boycott of elections in January left them without an effective voice in the legislature, also are gearing up for the December balloting, boosting the hopes of U.S. officials who have pinned their hopes for stability on the development of democratic structures.

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