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
A poster by Durham Constabulary
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine