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Shiites and Kurds Adopt Rules To Ensure Constitution Passes

By Robert F. Worth


Iraq’s Shiite and Kurdish leaders quietly adopted new rules over the weekend that will make it virtually impossible for the constitution to fail in the coming national referendum.

The move prompted Sunni Arabs and a range of independent political figures to complain that the vote was being fixed.

Some Sunni leaders who have been organizing a campaign to vote down the proposed constitution said they might now boycott the referendum on Oct. 15. Other political leaders also reacted angrily, saying the change would seriously damage the vote’s credibility.

Under the new rules, the constitution will fail only if two-thirds of all registered voters — rather than two-thirds of all those actually casting ballots — reject it in at least three of the 18 provinces.

The change, adopted during an unannounced vote in parliament on Sunday afternoon, effectively raises the bar for those who oppose the constitution. Given that fewer than 60 percent of registered Iraqis voted in the January elections, the chances that two-thirds will both show up at the polls and vote against the document in three provinces would appear to be close to nil.

“This is a mockery of democracy, a mockery of law,” said Adnan al-Janabi, a secular Sunni representative and a member of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s party. “Many Sunnis have been telling me they didn’t believe in this democratic process, and now I believe they are vindicated.”

The rule change could prove a serious embarrassment to American officials in Iraq, who have spent recent weeks struggling to persuade Sunni Arabs to vote for the constitution and even trying to broker last-minute changes that would make it more palatable to them.

There was some confusion on Monday about the origin of the change. One member of Iraq’s electoral commission said the commission had already made a similar ruling last month, while another member denied that. But Ali Dabagh, a moderate Shiite member of parliament, said there had been no public ruling until Sunday’s vote.

Dabagh also said the United Nations had expressed dissatisfaction on Monday with the rule change, and that the National Assembly would meet Tuesday to reconsider it.