Iraq's Sunnis Register to Vote in Droves

By Ellen Knickmeyer and Bassam Sebti
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 8, 2005

BAGHDAD, Sept. 7 -- Voter registration soared in some Sunni Arab parts of Iraq as Sunnis mobilized to try to vote down a draft constitution they believe will divide the country, according to figures released Wednesday at the close of registration for the Oct. 15 referendum.

The results of the Sunni registration campaign came on a day of violence in the predominantly Shiite south. Local officials in Basra, the largest city in the region, said a car bombing killed 16 people, including at least two children, news agencies reported.

A roadside bombing in Basra earlier in the day killed four American security contractors who were in the lead vehicle of a convoy of U.S. diplomatic officials. No one else was injured, an official said. While political tensions have been high in Basra, bombings have been rare.

The surge in voter registration in the heavily Sunni west signaled the minority's belated entry into the country's political process. Most Sunnis stood on the sidelines of the Jan. 30 national elections that seated the interim government, which was charged with drafting the constitution. As a result, Sunnis were left with diminished political leverage in negotiations over the document.

This time, "we registered to defeat the constitution," said Khalid Jubouri, a guard at a government ministry in Fallujah, a city in the volatile western province of Anbar. "This is considered fighting by word and thought. We are optimistic about the battle, and we will win it eventually."

Registration in Anbar swelled from a tiny percentage of eligible adults in January to nearly 85 percent, said Muhammed Ibrahim, the director of voter registration centers in the province.

Ibrahim said about 600,000 of the province's 715,000 eligible adults registered, despite pledges from al Qaeda in Iraq, an insurgent group led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian, that anyone who took part in the voting would become a target for killing.

"It is a big number we didn't expect given the security situation in the province," Ibrahim said. "It is a great number."

Last month, suspected insurgents killed three Sunni activists who were working on voter registration in the northern city of Mosul. Their corpses were draped in a get-out-the-vote banner.

In the predominantly Sunni province of Salahuddin, 722,025 of 1.1 million eligible adults registered to vote, said Isam Hussein Samarraie, the provincial voter registration director. In the January elections, 532,069 people cast ballots there.

In Diyala province, 417,000 of 750,000 eligible adults registered. In January, only 119,000 cast ballots, according to Amir Latif Alyahya, director of the provincial elections commission.

Iraqis who voted in the January elections are automatically eligible to vote in the referendum on the constitution without registering. It was unclear whether the registration figures would be challenged.

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