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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 October 2005, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Iraq backs charter - but only just
By Quil Lawrence
BBC News, Baghdad

An Iraqi cast his vote in Mosul, capital of Nineveh province
Nineveh rejected the constitution but not by a two-third majority
After 10 days of waiting, Iraq's electoral commission has announced the results of the country's constitutional referendum.

Across Iraq the constitution was ratified by over 78%.

But the vote was much closer than it appears - if three provinces had rejected the draft constitution by a two-thirds margin, it would have constituted a veto and sent the entire process back to the drawing board.

Two Sunni Arab provinces, Anbar and Salahuddin, did solidly reject the draft constitution.

The vote then came down to the wire in the ethnically mixed province of Nineveh.

In the final tally today, Nineveh did vote against the constitution, but only by about 55% - short of the two-thirds margin for a veto.

Sunni concerns

On the day of the referendum, voters in Mosul, the capital of Nineveh, seemed to be voting strictly along ethnic lines.

Sunni Arabs there fear that the constitution gives too much autonomy to the Kurdish North and the Shia South, and will lead to a partition of the country.

Many said they considered the constitution to be imposed by the Americans.

Iraqi policemen celebrate the final results of the constitutional referendum in Najaf
Many Iraqis are confident the charter will bring peace and democracy

One Sunni Islamist political party did endorse the constitution only days before the vote, and that may have convinced enough Sunnis to vote "Yes" and prevent the veto.

Across the country, the turnout was about 63% of eligible voters. That included a high turnout in the Sunni Arab provinces.

Last January Sunni Arab voters boycotted the parliamentary elections, mostly due to threats of death from Islamist militants.

The "Yes" vote announced today clears the way for Iraq to hold another parliamentary election in December.

Government officials are hoping that Sunnis will come out to vote again in December, to elect a permanent government with constitutional powers and a four-year term.

Withdrawal hopes

Support for the constitution reached well over 90% in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq, as well as the Shia Arab dominated Southern provinces.

The Kurds were satisfied that the constitution adequately guarantees their autonomy from the central government, which has been a fact on the ground since after the first Gulf War in 1991.

An Iraqi police car rushes along the street as a huge explosion rattles central Baghdad
Car bombs have hit a Baghdad hotel used by foreign journalists

Shias largely took cue from their mainstream religious leaders, who have urged them to participate in each stage of the transitional government process so far.

Radical Shia leader Moqtada al Sadr had urged his supporters to oppose the constitution, but it appears to have had little effect on the referendum.

Had the constitution been defeated, the drafting process would have started all over again, delaying the creation of a permanent government in Iraq by at least a year.

Iraqi government officials, as well as the US-led coalition here, say Iraq does not have an extra year to waste as it struggles to assert government control and rule of law across the country.

The US government is hoping the political process will sap the strength of the insurgency, and allow US and allied troops to begin a gradual withdrawal.

Despite the success of the constitution, the insurgent violence continues in Iraq with daily attacks on coalition military forces, Iraqi government forces and civilians.

Three massive car bombs exploded in central Baghdad on Monday.

On Tuesday, nine people were killed in a multiple car bomb attack in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah.

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