Saturday, September 24, 2005

BAGHDAD — The leader of Iraq’s main Shi’ite political party added his voice yesterday to those of Shi’ite religious leaders calling for a “yes” vote on the draft constitution.

Speaking at a meeting in Baghdad, Abdel Aziz Hakim, who heads the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the largest Shi’ite party, called for voters to approve the draft constitution on Oct. 15.

“It is a religious duty for all of us to hit the ballot boxes and say ‘yes’ to pass the constitution,” he said.

“We will slap the terrorists hard by going to vote for the constitution,” he added, speaking of the Oct. 15 referendum on the country’s first post-Saddam constitution, as hundreds of supporters chanted “Yes, yes to the constitution.”

Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, also was expected to issue a fatwa, or religious edict in favor of the draft, which has sharply divided Shi’ites and Sunni Arabs.

“A fatwa will be issued within the coming days to encourage people to vote ‘yes,’” a source close to Ayatollah al-Sistani said Friday in the holy Shi’ite city of Najaf.

Ayatollah al-Sistani, who rarely speaks in public, was one of the driving forces behind the January elections, the first free vote since the downfall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, which saw Iraq’s majority Shi’ites and secular Kurds dominate the legislature.

Mr. Hakim lashed out at neighboring Arab countries that have voiced concerns over the draft, recalling their support for Saddam’s regime during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

“Is it not enough what you have done [in the past] to the Iraqi people by supporting the regime of Saddam?” he asked.

“In the past, you worked against the interests of the Iraqi people. Today, you are pretending to cry for the Iraqi people,” he added.

Sunni extremists have called for a boycott of the referendum and threatened to kill anyone taking part, while most Sunni organizations have urged a “no” vote mainly because they object to federal provisions in the draft.

The draft, approved by parliament in late August, can be rejected if two-thirds of the voters in at least three of the country’s 18 provinces vote it down. Three provinces have a majority Sunni population.

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