Questions & Answers on the Iraqi Constitution Referendum

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Compiled by Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 12, 2005; 11:23 AM

Why is Iraq's constitution in the news?

Because on Oct. 15, Iraqis will have their first chance since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 to decide for themselves the basic principles of their government. Voters will cast ballots to accept or reject a constitution drafted by the National Assembly that was elected last January. If two-thirds of the voters in three or more of the country's 18 provinces vote to reject the constitution, it cannot go into effect.

What does the proposed constitution say?

It would establish a democratic, federal, parliamentary republic with Islam as its official religion. An elected president would choose a prime minister from the largest party in parliament to administer the government. The document provides for civilian control of the military and guarantees the rights of religious minorities. The Baath Party of former president Saddam Hussein would be banned. The country's provincial and regional governments would gain significant powers, although Baghdad would remain the national capital. (Text and excerpts)

What do Iraqis think of the constitution?

Polls show that the constitution enjoys strong support among the ethnic Kurds in the northern part of the country, who have enjoyed a high degree of autonomy since the Gulf War of 1991. The draft charter is also supported by Shiite Muslims in the south, whose political parties won the first round of parliamentary elections last January. By all accounts, Sunni Muslims in the central and western provinces of the country, the former stronghold of Saddam Hussein, are much less supportive, fearing that they will lose power under the constitution's provisions. Negotiators reportedly won support from Sunni leaders this week by agreeing to several last-minute changes to the constitution's text that would enable Sunni elected officials to propose amendments to the document next year.

What is the U.S. government's position?

U.S. officials support the constitutional process and participated actively in the negotiations among various political factions during its drafting.

Would approval of the constitution reduce the violence in Iraq?

Not in the short run. But proponents hope that its adoption would persuade supporters of the insurgency that they have a place in the Iraqi political system and do not need to resort to violence. Opponents of the constitutional process reject the constitution as an illegitimate arrangement imposed by the United States. They say approval will only strengthen the insurgents.

What happens if the constitution is approved?

Elections for a four-year parliament with full powers invested in it by the constitution would be held no later than Dec. 15. A new government would be sworn in before Dec. 31.

And if it is rejected?

The parliament would be dissolved and new elections would have to be held by Dec. 15 for a new interim parliament. That assembly would then write a new draft constitution and hold another referendum by October 2006.

When will the results be known?

The Iraqi electoral commission says the votes will be tabulated within five days of the balloting.


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