Iraq Constitution Narrowly Approved By Voters

Despite a near-unanimous 'no' vote in two Sunni provinces, constitution passes.

Despite a near-unanimous "no" vote in two majority Sunni provinces, Iraqi voters have narrowly ratified the new U.S.-backed constitution.

Officials confirmed the vote results on Tuesday after a review of suspiciously high vote totals in some provinces (see "Unusually High Vote Totals Prompt Review Of Iraq Referendum"). The final tallies for the October 15 referendum show that 79 percent of voters backed the constitution against 21 percent opposed, according to a Reuters report.

As expected, the voting was largely split along the country's sectarian and ethnic lines, with some majority Shiite and Kurdish regions voting between 95 and 99 percent "yes," while just two of Iraq's 18 provinces reported at least two-thirds of the ballots voting "no" (the insurgent stronghold of Anbar voted 97 percent "no"). If three provinces had done so, the referendum would have failed and the entire constitutional process would have had to begin anew. Opponents of the constitution had hoped that the northern province of Nineveh, which has a large Sunni population, would bring in a third 'no,' but only 55 percent of its voters rejected the charter.

Despite complaints by some Sunni leaders of massive fraud, United Nations and Iraqi election officials said the vote was fair. The announcement came just hours after insurgents staged a dramatic triple suicide bombing attack on a Baghdad hotel used by many journalists on Monday, and the U.S. death toll in the war passed 2,000, according to CNN estimates. The bombings of the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, which are seen by insurgents as a symbol of the two-year-old foreign occupation of their lands, was intentionally carried out in front of rolling television cameras and carefully planned to get global media coverage, according to Reuters. The bombings killed 12 Iraqis and wounded 22 others.

Though Washington and the Shiite and Kurdish-led government praised the passage of the constitution, which paves the way for a December 15 parliamentary vote, the road to that next democratic milestone is far from smooth.

The Sunnis were the ruling party under former dictator Saddam Hussein, and the sect represents 20 percent of Iraq's population. They resisted some of the constitution's language and have continued to ask for changes in its wording, fearing that they would be isolated in the new power structure. Worried that Sunnis — who are also behind the insurgent violence that continues to claim lives daily in Iraq — would attempt to push the country into civil war, the Bush administration has said the constitution is still open to amendment.