U.S. Lauds Voter Turnout in Iraq

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 16, 2005; 2:12 PM

LONDON, Oct. 16 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that initial assessments indicate Iraqis had probably approved a controversial constitution, although the turnout alone showed the fragile new political process has taken hold despite a deadly insurgency.

"There's a belief that it has probably passed," Rice told reporters traveling with her, based on accounts from people in Iraq who are seeing preliminary vote tallies. At least 63 percent of Iraqis voted Saturday, she said, an increase of about 1 million voters over the first democratic election in January for a transitional government. Much of that increase, she said, comes from the higher participation of Iraq's minority Sunni Muslims.

The violence also was lower and produced fewer lethal attacks than in January's vote, she noted.

Speaking in Washington Sunday afternoon, President Bush congratulated the Iraqis and noted that higher number of voters, especially among the Sunnis.

"This is a very positive day for the Iraqis and, as well, for world peace," Bush said in brief remarks to reporters. "Democracies are peaceful countries. The vote today in Iraq stands in stark contrast to the attitudes and philosophy and strategy of al Qaeda and its terrorist friends and killers."

The constitution requires a simple majority to be approved, unless two-thirds of voters in three of Iraq's 18 provinces voted against it. Then the constitution would not pass and Iraqi leaders would be forced to draft a new document to be submitted to voters.

News services from Baghdad reported Sunday that unofficial returns suggested large numbers of voters rejected the constitution in the Sunni strongholds of Anbar and Salahuddin provinces. But according to other unofficial results, Sunni voters may not have been able to reach the two-thirds threshold in Diyala province east of Baghdad or in Nineveh province in the north, where Sunnis also are a large percentage of the population.

The Associated Press reported that Samira Mohammed, a spokeswoman for the election commission in Ninevah's capital of Mosul, said a vote count from 260 of the province's 300 polling stations showed about 300,000 people supported the constitution and 80,000 opposed it.

The AP also reported that in Diyala, 70 percent of voters approved the constitution, while 20 percent opposed it and 10 percent of ballots were rejected as irregular, said Adil Abdel-Latif, the head of the province's election commission. The ballots were expected to be checked and recounted.

Rice's comments in London early today upset some Sunnis in Iraq, who accused her of sending signals to elections officials. "Condoleezza Rice made a statement," one Sunni leader, Saleh Mutlak told reporters in Baghdad, according to the Reuters news agency. "I believe it is a signal to the Electoral Commission to pass the constitution."

Rice later told reporters that she did not know for sure how the vote would come out, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said on CNN Sunday that it was "too soon to tell" what the voting had determined.

Disputes over the constitution have been intense and threatened to deepen the religious and ethnic divide right up to the Saturday vote. But Rice said the turnout sends a strong signal to insurgents that the political process is "alive and well."

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