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Vote Count Confirms Iraqi Approval of Constitution


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

After 10 days of counting and investigating votes, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq says the country's new constitution has been approved. In the October 15th referendum, three provinces, had they voted against the constitution by a two-thirds majority, could have rejected it, but according to what are now official results, only two majority Sunni provinces did that. A third province, Ninawa, voted no but only with a 55 percent majority. The White House calls it a landmark day in the history of Iraq. One Sunni Arab politician in Baghdad calls it a farce and a fraud. Dan Murphy is Middle East correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor and joins us from Baghdad.

Dan Murphy, do most Iraqis seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of the referendum, or are there many dissenters?

Mr. DAN MURPHY (The Christian Science Monitor): Most Iraqis do acknowledge the legitimacy of the referendum. However, most Sunni Arabs have their doubts, and probably a lot of them reject the thing if you talk to them. Salih Mutlak(ph), whose comments you mentioned earlier, actually had been one of the Sunnis that had participated in trying to draft this constitution, although he wasn't happy with the final result. And so what we have here is another illustration of the enormous sectarian divide that's going right through the middle of Iraqi society right now. And so, you know, it's not another landmark day; it's a reminder of the very important challenges that lie ahead.

SIEGEL: I spoke to Mr. Mutlak earlier today on a phone line that alas--it was not sufficiently audible for us to be able to use here on the air. But he says he wants to go to the United Nations, have the secretary-general order a re-run of the referendum or bring in international observers for the parliamentary elections in December. Any possibility of any of that actually happening?

Mr. MURPHY: Well, I mean, if Salih doesn't get that to happen, he'll go get the space aliens to help. No, there's no chance that there's going to be substantial changes made going forward, and he knows that. But they're also setting themselves up to reject outcomes as they go forward because, again, they're going to participate more in the December elections. But they're not going to do better than 15 to 20 percent of the seats in parliament 'cause that's about what the Sunni Arab demographic weight is in Iraq. Most of the Arabs think there are more than they actually are, and so whenever the results go against them, they're going to cry fraud.

SIEGEL: Well, there will be parliamentary elections coming up at the end of the year. What are the main questions facing Iraq's different groups between now and then?

Mr. MURPHY: These elections in December are really the interesting elections. The constitutional referendum has come and gone; we have this document. What's important is the people that are going to determine how this thing is interpreted, how it may be changed to try to bring the Sunni Arabs in. And we don't know. This is a very interesting election whose outcome is uncertain. Between now and then the major political factions are going to have to get their houses in order, particularly since you are going to have Sunni Arab participation, I think, you know, far above and beyond their participation last January in the interim parliamentary elections, which means the sort of massive majority that the Shiites have had won't be there. The Kurds won't be the dominant minority in parliament again. And so compromise and deal-making after this election happens are going to be much more important.

SIEGEL: This news of the official results of the constitutional referendum comes among and between various reports of bomb blasts in Baghdad and elsewhere. Is there any sense there that the political process is coopting any of the energies that are going into the violent insurgency or that the insurgency is somehow profiting from the constitutional process?

Mr. MURPHY: You know, I don't think--it's certainly not coopting or doing anything to limit the insurgency. The conflict is raging at the same level it has been for a long time. The constitution may be giving a little extra fill-up to Sunni Arab rejectionists, who are already disgruntled and angry and might have been participating in the insurgency. They may feel more marginalized and cut out because, after all, this constitution is universally rejected by virtually every Sunni Arab in Iraq.

However, all that said, one of the mistakes that's made, I think, in--out of the administration states sometimes is suggesting that the very act of participation, whether you reject or you agree, is somehow going to dampen the insurgency here. It's possible to both vote to reject a constitution on a Monday and then, if you don't get what you want, to take the gun out of your attic and fight on a Tuesday. And, you know, either way, unfortunately, there's very little signs of co-optation going on here now.

SIEGEL: Dan Murphy, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. MURPHY: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Dan Murphy, who is the Middle East correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, talking to us from Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.