Shiite Leader Urges 'Yes' In Vote on Iraq Charter

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Associated Press
Sunday, September 25, 2005

BAGHDAD, Sept. 24 -- The leader of Iraq's largest Shiite Muslim political organization joined the country's most revered and powerful Shiite cleric Saturday in a strong public push for voter support of a new constitution, three weeks ahead of a national referendum.

"It is our religious duty to say 'yes' to the constitution and to go to the ballot boxes," Abdul Aziz Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told more than 2,000 supporters gathered in Baghdad to mark a 1991 Shiite uprising that was crushed brutally by President Saddam Hussein.

The appeal added a key voice of support two days after Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani also directed followers to back the charter. Shiite solidarity is essential if the constitution is to pass in the Oct. 15 vote. If two-thirds of voters in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces reject the document, a new government must be formed and the process of writing the constitution started over.

Minority Sunni Arabs are dominant in four provinces and could defeat the new charter. On Saturday, Sunni clerics and tribal leaders expressed optimism they could do just that.

The Sunnis concluded a three-day meeting -- held in Amman, Jordan, for security reasons -- with a communique urging a no vote "if the constitution's main points on Iraq's unity and Arab identity are not rectified, as well as articles related to political and racial segregation."

Meanwhile, car bombers killed five Iraqis in and near Baghdad.

In Basra, the country's southern oil hub and headquarters for British forces in Iraq, an Iraqi judge said he renewed homicide arrest warrants for two undercover British soldiers who allegedly killed an Iraqi policeman who was trying to detain them last week.

The British government said the warrants had not been delivered and, regardless, were illegal. "Iraqi law is very clear: British personnel are immune from the Iraqi legal process. They remain subject to British law. Even if such a warrant was issued, it would therefore be of no legal effect," Defense Secretary John Reid said in London.

The two Britons were freed from jail Monday by British troops who used armor to crash through the prison walls. In a sign of continuing tensions and Iraqi fury over the British operation, Katyusha rockets were fired at U.S. and British facilities in the city Saturday. There were no casualties, police Capt. Mushtaq Khazim said.

Three more rockets were fired at the Shatt al Arab Hotel, headquarters of the British army, he said. One hit the building without causing casualties. The two others hit nearby homes, wounding a resident, Khazim said.


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