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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£26000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is Europe's indust...

Recruitment Genius: Engineering Technician

£17020 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Aerospace company is looki...

Recruitment Genius: Company Bookkeeper

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Bookkeeper is required to joi...

Recruitment Genius: Site Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to growth this company is seeking two Site...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen