Iraqi Voters Say 'Yes' to New Constitution
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2005 A majority of Iraq's citizens have approved their country's new constitution, an event the top U.S. diplomat called "a remarkable story."
Iraqis "achieved yet another step on their march toward democracy," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said to reporters today during a trip Ottawa, Canada.
Iraqis voted on the new constitution during an Oct. 15 referendum. The Iraqi government today announced that 78 percent of voters approved the document.
Each time Iraqis faced a challenge since the fall of Saddam Hussein they've met it, whether it was in the transfer of sovereignty or the creation of an interim government, Rice said. The Iraqis also successfully held elections on Jan. 30. And now, "they're getting ready for elections in December," she said.
The Iraqis are staying on their path toward democracy "despite the fact that there are violent people who would like to throw them off that path," Rice said, noting she sends her congratulations to the Iraqi people.
About 96 percent of Iraqis living in Anbar province -- mostly Sunnis -- voted against the new constitution. However, Rice said, "it is not against the exercise of democracy to vote 'no.'
"It is the exercise of democracy to vote. And the Sunnis have exercised their right to vote," Rice said.
Toward the end of negotiations on the draft constitution a number of key decisions about how federalism would be administered across Iraq "were left for the next parliament to decide," Rice said. That governing body will be chosen during upcoming December elections.
Official believe the next elected Iraqi parliament "will have full Sunni participation because Sunnis are now really involved in the process," Rice said. Kurds and Shiites, Iraq's two other major ethnic groups, "agreed to a mechanism by which the constitution can be amended," Rice said, "so that Sunnis still have a chance to shape this very important document."
"It's now my hope that ... Sunni and Shiia and Kurds and other groups will work now to improve the constitution, but also to really now go to the elections and exercise again the democratic franchise for the election of the people whose responsibility it will be to be the first free and permanent government of a free Iraq," Rice said.