Wednesday, October 19, 2005

All but two Iraqi provinces say yes

from The Australian: Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent October 18, 2005 ...

A HIGHER than expected turnout by Sunni voters appears to have failed to stop passage of Iraq's draft constitution, with early counts suggesting a yes vote in all but two of the country's 18 provinces.

The likely victory seems certain to spark more violence and raises the prospect of Iraq being divided along ethnic and sectarian lines. The Sunni Arab minority, which violently opposed the new charter, lives largely within four provinces in the centre of Iraq and needed to muster a two-thirds no vote in three of the provinces in order to defeat it. Sunnis held a majority in all four of the provinces. But Iraqi and US officials were confident last night that the no vote in the Sunni strongholds had not reached the crucial two-thirds benchmark.

. . .Iraqi legislators and the troubled nation's pan-Arab neighbours were yesterday preparing for the implications of the new constitution which they feared may have spin-offs for their own regimes.

The constitution enshrines Iraqi Kurdish rights for the first time, and neighbouring Turkey, Iran and Syria -- which are already struggling to accommodate the aspirations of their own Kurds -- were bracing for a fresh push for an autonomous Kurdish homeland.

Jordanian politicians warned that a weakened Sunni minority in Iraq could also have implications for the Sunni majorities in the rest of the Arab world. Jordan fears the newly emboldened Iraqi Shi'ites could align with the dominant Shi'ites of Iran to form a regional power base.

But of more concern in the short term is a return to raging Sunni-led violence aimed at Shi'ite communities and the US-led coalition. Sunnis had realised their boycott of parliamentary elections in January had effectively handed over power to the other two blocs, leaving them with a tiny presence in the Iraqi legislature. They had been determined to defeat the ballot, and with that bid now likely to have failed, Middle Eastern analysts believe the insurgents will opt for continued violence as their only hope of maintaining influence. . . .There are fears the insurgency could grow into a civil war fought along sectarian lines that could drag in other nations.

. . .If final counting confirms passage of the constitution, parliamentary elections will be held in late December.

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