10-25-05 - Iraq's landmark constitution was adopted by a majority in a fair vote during the country's Oct. 15 referendum, as Sunni Arab opponents failed to muster enough support to defeat it, election officials said Tuesday. A prominent Sunni politician called the balloting "a farce."
The U.S. military also announced the deaths of two Marines in fighting with insurgents last week in Baghdad, bringing the number of American service members killed in the war to 1,999.
The referendum results, announced after a 10-day audit following allegations of fraud, confirmed previous indications that Sunni Arabs failed to produce the two-thirds "no" vote they would have needed in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces to defeat the constitution.
The charter is considered a major step in Iraq's democratic reforms, clearing the way for the election of a new, full-term Iraqi parliament on Dec. 15. Such steps are important in any decision about the future withdrawal of U.S.-led forces from Iraq.
However, some fear the victory, which came despite a large turnout by Sunni Arabs in an effort to defeat it, could enrage many members of the minority and fuel their support for the insurgency.
Carina Perelli, the U.N. elections chief, praised a "very good job" with the audit of results by election officials and said "Iraq should be proud of the commission."
Two suicide car bombs also exploded Tuesday in the generally peaceful Kurdish province of Sulaimaniyah, killing 12 people.
Iraqi and U.S. forces, meanwhile, refortified a hotel complex where many Western journalists live in central Baghdad after three suicide car bombs exploded a day earlier. Deputy Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal told The Associated Press that 17 people were killed _ most hotel guards and passers-by _ and 10 wounded in the attack.
Farid Ayar, an official with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said the audit had turned up no significant fraud.
But Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni Arab member of the committee that drafted the constitution, called the referendum "a farce" and accused government forces of stealing ballot boxes to reduce the percentage of "no" votes in several mostly Sunni-Arab provinces.
"The people were shocked to find out that their vote is worthless because of the major fraud that takes place in Iraq," he said on Al-Arabiya TV.
The charter was drafted after months of bitter negotiations that ended with some Sunni leaders agreeing to support it with provisions that future changes were possible.
The militants kept up their deadly attacks Tuesday.
A suicide car bomb exploded near a regional government ministry, which houses Kurdish forces known as peshmerga, on the outskirts of the predominantly Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, killing 12 people, Lt. Col. Taha Redha, a peshmerga official said.
About 45 minutes earlier, a suicide car bomb rammed into a seven-car convoy carrying Mullah Bakhtiyar, a senior Kurdish official in President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, said police Col. Najim al-Din Qader. The blast in Sulaimaniyah city wounded two of the convoy's guards and damaged two of its cars, Qader said. Bakhtiyar was not hurt.
Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad, is where the PUK party is based, and is considered one of the most peaceful areas of Iraq.
The U.S. military said two Marines were killed by a roadside bomb during fighting with insurgents on Friday near Amiriyah, a village in western Baghdad. That raised to 1,999 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an AP count.
As the U.S. military death toll in the Iraq war nears the landmark total of 2,000, the Iraqi death toll is unknown, but estimates range much higher.
Iraq Body Count, a British research group that compiles its figures from reports by the major news agencies and British and U.S. newspapers, has said that as many as 30,051 Iraqis have been killed since the start of the war. Other estimates range as high as 100,000.
U.S. and coalition authorities say they have not kept a count of such deaths, and Iraqi government accounting has proven to be haphazard.
Crews repaired a breach in the blast walls around the Palestine and Sheraton hotels that were struck on Monday. One of the bombs had blown a hole in the wall, enabling a cement truck packed with explosives to enter the compound and explode, causing considerable damage to the Palestine Hotel, which houses offices of the AP, Fox News and other media organizations.
"The latest death toll for yesterday's three car bomb attacks was 17 dead and 10 wounded, most of the casualties were policemen guarding the hotels and passers by as well as some worshippers who were stepping out of the nearby mosque," Kamal said.
The vote on the constitution was 78.59 percent in favor of ratification and 21.41 percent against, the commission said. The charter required a simple majority nationwide with the provision that if two-thirds of the voters in any three provinces rejected it, the constitution would be defeated.
Italy, a staunch U.S. ally in Iraq, welcomed the results and said it would keep supporting the political process in the country.
"Today marks the beginning of a new era of dialogue and reconciliation among all Iraqi people, beyond ethnic and religious differences, and shows that politics has defeated the violence of terror," said Foreign Minister and Deputy Premier Gianfranco Fini.
The election commission said that the predominantly Sunni province of Ninevah had produced a "no" vote of only 55 percent. Only two other mostly Sunni provinces _ Salahuddin and Anbar _ had voted no by two-thirds or more.
Ninevah had been a focus of fraud allegations since preliminary results had showed a large majority of voters had approved the constitution, despite a large Sunni Arab population there.
Many Kurds and majority Shiites strongly support the constitution, but Sunni Arabs fear it will create two virtually autonomous and oil-rich mini-states of Kurds in the north and Sunnis in the south, while leaving many Sunnis isolated in poor central and western regions with a weak central government in Baghdad.
Some 9.8 million Iraqis cast ballots in the referendum, or 63 percent of registered voters. That was slightly higher than the approximately 60 percent turnout for January's legislative vote, which was boycotted by many Sunni Arabs.
In other violence:
_Insurgents used four bombs and seven shootings to kill six people _ a 7-year-old boy, two Iraqi soldiers and three policemen _ and wound 45 Iraqis, most policemen, officials said. A 10-year-old girl was among nine civilians wounded in the attack.
_Militants shot a policewoman in the northern city of Mosul, police said.