On the prior Constitution election under Saddam, election results showed that he had received 100 perecent of the vote, with 100 percent turnout. To anyone who buys such a statement, I have some ...er property that I need to sell.
Free Elections in Iraq - Reuters (external - login to view)
Provinces in focus as Iraq counts votes
Sat Oct 15, 2005 6:19 PM ET
By Andrew Quinn
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi officials counted ballots on Sunday after a historic vote on a U.S.-backed constitution with the fate of the document in the hands of a few provinces where Sunnis may muster enough "No" votes to block it.
A massive security clampdown prevented any serious insurgent attacks on voting day, with only scattered strikes reported around the country after months of Sunni Arab militant bloodshed that has killed thousands.
Election officials said partial results from the vote could be available as early as Sunday, but that it would take several days for the verdict to become clear.
If the constitution passes Iraq will go to the polls again in December to elect a new, four-year parliament in a step that Washington says will mark its full emergence as a sovereign democracy and new Western ally.
A "No" vote would force the country's warring factions back to the drawing board, limiting December's election to a new interim government to redraft the charter.
Most of Iraq's 18 provinces were expected to support the constitution, following Shi'ite and Kurdish government leaders who have tailored many of its provisions to their needs.
But it could still be blocked if two thirds of the voters in at least three provinces reject it.
Electoral officials said as many as 10 million of Iraq's eligible 15.5 million voters cast ballots, which would give a turnout of around 65 percent -- higher than the 58 percent recorded in January when the country went to the polls for the first time since Saddam Hussein's 2003 overthrow.
Despite the uncertainty, Saturday's election won praise from the United Nations and the Bush Administration.
"The vote today is an important milestone. They will have elections in December for a permanent government. Every time the Iraqi people have been given an opportunity to express themselves politically they have taken it," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the BBC in an interview.
The White House praised the large turnout in the referendum and the calm relative to the January election of an interim government when more than 40 people were killed in more than 100 insurgent attacks, including suicide bombings.
"It appears that the level of violence was well below the last election," White House spokesman Allen Abney said.
"Today's vote deals a severe blow to the ambitions of the terrorists and sends a clear message to the world that the people of Iraq will decide the future of their country through peaceful elections, not violent insurgencies," he added.
Saturday's ballot came exactly three years to the day after Iraq's last constitutional referendum, which asked voters if they wanted to extend Saddam's rule by seven years. The results gave Saddam 100 percent on a 100 percent turnout in a gesture of defiance toward a U.S. administration set on toppling him.
This year Iraq's sectarian feuds have ruled out such an unambiguous outcome, with many Sunnis fearful Iraq may break up into Shi'ite and Kurdish spheres that will deprive them of both power and oil.
At least two Sunni-dominated provinces -- Anbar to the west and Salahadin around Saddam's hometown of Tikrit -- are all but certain to vote heavily "No". An electoral official in Tikrit itself, Saleh Farah, said votes against the constitution in the city were 43,571 -- or 96 percent of those voting.
The key could lie in the northern province of Nineveh and the city of Mosul. Sitting some 400 km (250 miles) north of Baghdad, Mosul has a volatile mix of about two million Sunni Arabs and Kurds near some of Iraq's richest oil fields.
Arabs accuse Kurdish leaders, whose autonomous region of Kurdistan lies just outside the city, of packing Mosul with Kurds. The Kurds deny this, but it is unclear if Sunni opponents of the constitution can rally the numbers to swing the province to the "No" camp and defeat the constitution nationally.
Few were betting on the outcome, and at least one prominent Sunni leader said that the real answer to Sunni fears may be to seek changes within the new political system.
"If we are certain that no serious infringements or fraud have occurred, then we will deal seriously with the new reality," said Hussein al-Falluji, who negotiated on the current version of the constitution.
"We're focusing on taking part in the coming election at full strength to create a new balance in parliament and then we will act firmly to amend the constitution."