Iraqi cleric backs constitution as fears of sectarian violence deepen

Iraq's most influential cleric has urged Iraqis to vote in favour of the draft constitution in Saturday's referendum.

The backing of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has great influence over the 60 per cent of Iraqis who are Shia Muslims, came as political leaders stepped up their efforts to prevent the vote causing a deepening of sectarian hatred.

"Sayyed Sistani has called on Iraqis to vote Yes," his aide told Reuters. Although the Iranian-born cleric distances himself from politics, Iraqi politicians often seek his advice.

Meanwhile Iraqi political leaders have agreed to make changes in the constitution three days before the vote. In a hastily negotiated compromise the Shia and the Kurds agreed that, even after the constitution is approved, it can still be amended by a newly elected parliament next year.

The changes came after intense pressure from US officials fearful that the new federal constitution will increase support for the resistance from the Sunni Arabs. The Sunni have denounced it as a recipe for breaking up Iraq into Shia, Kurdish and Sunni cantons.

"I have good news for the Iraqi people on this historic day," said President Jalal Talabani. "An agreement has been reached on amendments to the draft constitution. There is no excuse for Arab Sunnis to boycott the vote."

The UN is supposedly distributing five million copies of the constitution, but few Iraqis say they have received copies. Officials now say voters will be informed by television on what they are voting for.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, which claims a considerable following among Sunni Arabs, said it now approved of the constitution. But the Sunni leaders involved in the negotiations may represent little support on the ground. "This is a ploy by the people in power to divide the Sunnis, " said Hussein al-Falluji, a Sunni politician. "Anyone supporting this constitution is merely ruining his reputation," said Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi of the influential Muslim Clerics Association.

Iraq continued to be convulsed by violence. A suicide bomber blew himself up near an army recruitment centre in the northern city of Tal Afar, killing 30 people. There was an attempt to kill Saad Naif al-Hardan, the minister for provincial affairs, in Baghdad when a suicide bomber drove into a convoy of guards which was about to pick him up. Further west in Ramadi, insurgents have threatened to kill anyone who goes to the polls on Saturday. Police reports say that 425 Iraqis have died violently in the past 17 days but this understates the real figure.

The amendments to the constitution would in theory give Sunni Arab members of a new National Assembly, to be elected on 15 December, the power to introduce radical changes. But these changes would have to be ratified by a two-thirds vote in parliament and a second referendum. Given that the Shia and Kurds are 80 per cent of the population this is unlikely.

VIDEO
News
news
Life & Style
tech
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Arts & Entertainment
film
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal