Iraq Sunnis confident of halting charter

Clerics and tribal leaders from Iraq's Sunni Arab minority have expressed optimism that they can mobilise their communities to reject the draft constitution in next month's referendum.

    The Sunni delegates called on Shia and Kurds to also vote no

    The three-day meeting organised to scuttle the charter

    concluded with a communique on Saturday urging a no vote "if the

    constitution's main points on Iraq's unity and Arab

    identity are not rectified, as well as articles related to

    political and racial segregation".

    Meeting organiser and prominent cleric Shaikh Abdul-Latif

    Himayem said he expected at least 51% of Iraq's

    electorate to vote against the charter in the 15 October

    referendum.

    "

    We are calling on all leaders, clergymen, tribal chiefs

    and university professors to mobilise their constituents to

    go to the polls and to vote no to the constitution,"

    Himayem said.

    "We have also prepared

    a petition and we expect to gather support from about 5

    million people from all over Iraq to say no to the

    constitution."

    The conference was held in the Jordanian capital, Amman,

    for security reasons.

    Iraq's Sunni Arabs have strongly opposed the draft

    constitution, largely because they say it would give Shia in the

    south the right to form a mini-state that Sunnis fear will

    deprive them of the area's oil wealth and lead

    to Iraq's fragmentation.

    Shia backing

    But the constitution got a major boost this week when it

    won support from Iraq's most revered Shia leader, Grand

    Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani, as well as Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of

    the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq,

    Iraq's largest Shia party and the senior partner in the

    ruling coalition.

    "

    We are calling on all leaders, clergymen, tribal chiefs

    and university professors to mobilise their constituents to

    go to the polls and to vote no to the constitution"



    Shaikh Abdul-Latif Himayem, meeting organiser and cleric

    Al-Hakim also accused groups he called "terrorists and remnants of the former regime" of seeking to disrupt the referendum process to prevent the Iraqi people from casting a yes vote. 

    Iraq's Shia, whose solidarity is essential if the

    constitution is to pass, make up 60% of the

    population. Sunni Arabs and Kurds account for 30%-40%.

    If two-thirds of the voters in any three of Iraq's 18

    provinces reject the document, parliament must be dissolved

    and a general election held for a new chamber that would

    undertake the drafting of a new constitution.

    The Sunnis are the majority in three Iraqi provinces.

    However, all three are among the hardest hit by violence

    and getting out the vote on 15 October could prove

    difficult.

    Unity threatened

    The 150 leaders from Iraq's violence-torn Sunni

    heartland who gathered in Amman are concerned that the

    proposed constitution threatens Iraq's unity.

    Sunnis say they fear the charter
    will lead to the breakup of Iraq

    The charter "has articles which could lead to Iraq's

    division and eradicate Iraq's Islamic and Arab identity",

    said Hamid Rashid al-Mhanna, head of the Albu Alwan tribe,

    one of the largest tribes in Anbar province.

    Delegate Faris Taha al-Faris called the constitution "a

    plot against Iraq" and complained that it was largely

    written by Americans.

    "We call on the Shia in the south, the Kurds in the

    north to also reject it because there are many people who

    do not agree with this charter," he said.

    Communique contents

    The communique issued at the end of the conference urged

    the Iraqi National Assembly and the interim government to

    preserve Iraq's territorial integrity.

    It asked that the

    referendum be carried out under the supervision of the

    United Nations, the Arab League, the Organisation of the

    Islamic Conference and the European Parliament.

    "Many of the moderates will turn to the resistance

    because it is a legitimate right to fight this

    constitution"


    Shaikh Abdul-Latif Himayem

    It also urged for "polling centres to be protected and

    the appropriate atmosphere provided for voters by stopping

    all military operations".

    Sunnis have increasingly complained of being hard hit in

    the crackdown by US and Iraqi forces against fighters -

    most of whom are believed to come from the Sunni Arab population.

    US and Iraqi troops have launched full-scale assaults on

    a number of Sunni cities to root out fighters.

    The Sunni delegates threatened to declare "civil disobedience" if the military operations against Sunni cities continued.

    Himayem, the cleric, emphasised that violence would

    increase if the constitution passes.

    "Many of the moderates will turn to the resistance

    because it is a legitimate right to fight this

    constitution," he warned.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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