Saturday, October 15, 2005

XINHUA (China): Eight of Iraq's 18 provinces, including three Sunni Arab provinces, had a turnout of more than 66 percent in the landmark referendum on the draft constitution, an electoral official said on Saturday.

New York Times: Turnout Is Mixed as Iraqis Cast Votes on Constitution. Millions of Iraqis streamed to the polls Saturday to vote on a new constitution, joined by what appeared to be strong turnouts of Sunni voters in some parts of the country. But the Sunni turnout - high in some cities like Mosul, low in others like Ramadi - appeared to be insufficient to defeat the new charter, and Iraqi officials predicted that it would pass.

Iraq vote turnout may exceed 10 million. Turnout in Iraq's constitutional referendum may have reached 10 million voters, or nearly two thirds of those registered, a member of Iraq's Electoral Commission said after polls closed. "I think it could be more than 10 million, I think, I hope," Farid Ayar, one of seven commissioners on the Electoral Commission, said on Saturday. "I was thinking that maybe we could get around 11 million voters. But Iraqis are getting more used to going and voting now, so perhaps it was a little bit quieter ... and it was Ramadan," he said, referring to the Muslim fasting month. If 10 million of the eligible 15.5 million voters cast ballots, that would give a turnout of around 65%, higher than the 58% recorded in January's election, the first held after Saddam Hussein's overthrow.

Ten people working for the independent Iraqi electoral commission have been abducted during the constitutional referendum in the restive Sunni al-Anbar province, the commission said.

Baghdad Sunnis say 'No' to charter. Bitter emotions in al-Aadhamiya left few doubts that whoever leads Iraq after December elections has a long way to go to win over the trust of the Sunni community. Sunnis interviewed in other parts of Baghdad were divided over the constitution, some voting "Yes" and others "No". But there were no mixed signals in the capital's Sunni heartland fiercely opposed to the charter drafted by Shia and Kurdish leaders. The mood in the al-Aadhamiya district of the capital on Saturday contrasted sharply with other areas, even nearby Sunni districts. "Of course I am voting 'No'," said Muhammad Hasan. "This document neglects the Sunnis and it just helps the Shia. We want a united Iraq , not one that is carved up into federal states."

Editorial note: As a couple readers noted, is not the same as Al Jazeera.

AP, via Khaleej Times: High turnout in Iraq’s day of voting.

BBC echoes earlier reports: Quiet vote for Iraq charter. Voting was quiet, calm, and steady at the polling station we visited just south of Basra. There was not the excitement of January's election, but there was still an atmosphere of celebration among Iraq's Shias as they waited to vote. One man said with a big grin that he was very happy to be able to take part in the referendum - only the second time in decades that Iraqis have been able to cast a democratic ballot.

Blogger "GOP Vixen" notes there were 13 incidents rather than 347, comparing today's polling to January's.

A comment in Publius' blog, from Baghdad: To add an update, the place I work is atop a hill which overlooks most of the city of Baghdad. On a normal day we hear numerous explosions, both large and small, as well as plenty of small arms fire. I think it is a testament to the ability of the new Iraqi forces to report that as of 5:00 pm today, I have heard zero explosions or weapons fire today.

The New York Times has multi-page coverage of the voting.

An earlier editorial from the Boston Globe: On the eve of Iraq vote, discord on its import. Sunnis weigh how to define their role.

Reuters: President George W. Bush vowed on Saturday that the United States "will not run" from Iraq as it did from Vietnam, as he welcomed voting on a new Iraqi constitution and called it step forward for democracy. Speaking near the close of voting on a charter aimed at reshaping Iraq's political structure after Saddam Hussein, Bush also praised the draft charter, which is strongly supported by ethnic Shi'ites and Kurds but opposed by many Sunni Arabs.

Al jazeera analysis: Why is Iraq’s constitution crucial to the U.S.? Tomorrow’s vote on Iraq's draft constitution, considered by some a major test for the country after years of suppression under Saddam’s rule then the ruthless occupation, is far more important to the U.S. government than it is to the Iraqis. [...]

The Age (Australia): Iraqis open 'door to freedom'. Iraqis walked through silent streets yesterday morning to begin voting on a new constitution which, if passed, would mark a major step towards the formation of the country's first full-term government since the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Some of the voters marched to polling centres with close friends or family members, others alone. Iraqi policemen with Kalashnikovs guarded the centres, mostly schools, and frisked people as US troops sat in tanks and armoured fighting vehicles nearby. In Baghdad, helicopters buzzed low over dun-coloured rooftops. Nearly all civilian cars were banned from the streets because of strict security rules mirroring those put in place during elections in January. [...]

Reuters echoes AP: In unexpected calm, millions of Iraqis voted on Saturday in a referendum on a new constitution that is designed to reshape the country after Saddam Hussein but which many fear may tear it further apart. Insurgents fought gunbattles with Iraqi and U.S. forces in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, but throughout the capital and much of the country, voting appeared to go smoothly and safely for 10 hours until polling stations began closing at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT).

Violence update: relatively speaking, very quiet: A roadside bomb has killed three Iraqi soldiers in northeast Iraq and six people were wounded during attacks by insurgents on four of Baghdad’s 1,200 polling stations in the constitutional referendum, police said.

StrategyPage covers Why Sunni Arabs are negotiating.

AP updates:

Key Points in Iraq's Draft Constitution.

What's Next for Iraq After Referendum.

Polls Close for Vote on Iraq Constitution.


Shawn Wasson is liveblogging the vote.

Omar of Iraq The Model is photoblogging.

Sooni is also photoblogging.


Chester is liveblogging.

Publius Pundit is also covering the polls.

After decades of repression and more than two years of war and insurgency, Iraqis went to the polls Saturday to vote on a draft constitution that would set up a democratic framework to govern the religiously and ethnically disparate nation. Polls across Iraq opened at 7 a.m. (midnight ET), amid tight security. Ahead of the vote, national and provincial borders were closed and nighttime curfews ordered. (CNN)

Austin Bay editorial: Iraq: lurching from terrorist hell to hope of democracy

Al jazeera editorial: Best bet: Dividing Iraq In what the American President George W. Bush claims to be another milestone on Iraq’s road to democracy, Iraqi headed to polling stations today to give a “yes” or “no” to the proposed draft constitution, expected to further divide the country into three min states.

The Nation (Bangkok) editorial: Iraq at the crossroads In another milestone on that nation’s road to democracy, voters will today approve or reject the new constitution. The people of Iraq have reached a crucial moment in their modern history, as they go out and make their voices heard today in the historic referendum on their draft constitution, in spite of terrorist efforts to derail this endeavour. The referendum is being held three years after ousted former president Saddam Hussein - who is awaiting trial on charges of crimes against humanity - was re-elected for the last time in a poll that showed 100 per cent of the vote in his favour.

L.A. Times: Shiite religious leaders mobilized followers Friday for a massive show of support in favor of Iraq's draft constitution, hoping to secure approval of the charter despite continued opposition among angry but increasingly divided Sunnis. Militants attacked five offices of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the prominent Sunni group that agreed to back the charter in exchange for last-minute concessions. Among the offices targeted was the one in Baghdad and the main office in Fallujah, which was set on fire. No one was injured in those attacks. [...] The referendum Saturday follows months of grueling negotiations among Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds. These often centered on the meaning of Iraq as a nation. Until this week, Sunni Arabs, who were underrepresented in the interim government because of their failure to participate in Jan. 30 parliamentary elections, were set to vote en masse against the proposed charter because they believe it mandates a weak central government and fails to uphold Iraq's Arab identity.

Mohammed Hamed al-Obadi doesn't like the proposed constitution that Iraqis will vote up or down on Saturday. When he walks through the dusty streets of his Sunni Muslim neighborhood, very few people have much good to say about it. But, unanimously, they agree they'll vote to make it law. "It's time for the Sunni people to get involved in the democratic process," said the 50-year-old son of a Sunni tribal sheik. "We boycotted the vote last January, and we lost because of it. This time, we must show our support for one Iraq by approving this constitution, then we must make it work for us, from the inside." (Knight-Ridder via SJ Mercury News)

Star Tribune editorial: Lots of ifs for Iraq. With Iraqis poised to vote on a draft constitution today, some Sunni leaders have changed their tune and appealed to their followers to support the document. In return, the Sunnis get an opportunity to amend it following parliamentary elections. We hope they haven't bought a pig in a poke. Sunnis make up 20 percent of Iraq's population, and the notion that they will somehow push significant changes through a parliament controlled by Kurds and Shiites is dubious. The arrangement may well get the constitution safely past the referendum, and it certainly begins to pry the Sunni population away from the insurgency. But the constitution remains a flawed document. It represses women; it prohibits many Sunni professionals from participating in public life because of ties to the Baath Party, and it allows the Kurds and Shiites to form regional governments with dangerous degrees of autonomy. [...]

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

AP: Parliament on Wednesday approved a set of last-minute amendments to Iraq's draft constitution, sealing a compromise aimed at gaining Sunni support in this weekend's crucial referendum, the parliament speaker said. Iraq's top leaders, including the Kurdish president, Sunni Arab vice-president, and Shiite prime minister, lined up on stage before the gathered lawmakers in parliament, lauding the deal as a show of unity between the country's often divided factions and communities. The hour-long session, attended by 157 of parliament's 275 members - ended without the lawmakers voting on the amendments, but Parliament Speaker Hajim al-Hassani said no actual vote was necessary and that the compromise was approved. [...]

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

blogger Publius Pundit writes: The Iraqis have worked out a very good deal amongst themselves. So good, in fact, that one key Sunni group is dropping its opposition to the constitution. The deal would allow the December parliament to make amendments to the constitution, in which Sunnis and liberal secularists will have a much higher representation and voice than the currently Kurdish and religious Shiite dominated parliament. It also works out some other key issues. [...]