Iraqis approve new constitution

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The Independent Online

"Whatever the results of the referendum are ... it is a civilized step that aims to put Iraq on the path of true democracy," Farid Ayar, an official with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said before reading the final results at a news conference.

The results indicated that Sunni Arabs, who had sharply opposed the draft document, had failed to produce the two-thirds "no" vote they would have needed in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces to defeat it.

Nationwide, the vote was 78.59 percent for ratification and 21.41 percent against, the commission said. The charter required a simple majority nationwide with the provision that if two-thirds of the voters in any three provinces rejected it, the constitution would be defeated.

The commission, which had been auditing the referendum results for 10 days, said that Ninevah province had produced a "no" vote of only 55 percent. Only two other mostly Sunni Arab provinces - Salahuddin and Anbar - had voted no by two-thirds or more.

Ninevah had been a focus of fraud allegations since preliminary results showed a large majority of voters had approved the constitution, despite a large Sunni Arab population there.

Election commission officials and U.N. officials, who also took part in the audit, "found no cases of fraud that could affect the results of the vote," Ayar said.

The constitution, which many Kurds and majority Shiites strongly support, is considered another major step in the country's democratic transformation, clearing the way for the election of a new Iraqi parliament on 15 December. Such steps are considered important in any decision about the future withdrawal of US-led forces from Iraq.

Many Sunni Arabs fear that the constitution will create two virtually autonomous and oil-rich mini-states of Kurds in the north and Sunnis in the south, while leaving many Sunnis isolated in poor central and western regions with a weak central government in Baghdad.

Some fear that the Sunni Arab loss in the referendum could influence more of them to join or support Sunni-led insurgents who are launching attacks across the country against Iraq's mostly Shiite and Kurdish government and US-led forces.