While the passage of the constitution has been welcomed by many, an equally vocal section is crying foul, alleging large-scale fraud.

Husain al-Shahristani, deputy chairman of the Iraqi National Congress welcomed the results as positive.

Ali al-Lami, a politician from the al-Daawa Party which supported the draft constitution, also hailed the results. "The majority of Iraqis actually find it the best solution for avoiding future emergence of any possible dictators in the Iraqi state," he said.

Supporters of the constitution claim federalism is the only way to restore rights to the provinces neglected earlier and ensure equitable distribution of the country's wealth.

The outcome of the 15 October referendum finally hinged on the results of the mainly Sunni northern province of Nineveh which was among the last provinces to declare its results.

Two other Sunni majority provinces had already voted against the charter by the necessary two-thirds majority but Nineveh voters only rejected the text by 55% to 45%, insufficient to block its adoption.

Critics

But those opposed to the constitution have been less than gracious in defeat. They say the new charter will result in a form of cantonisation, dividing Iraq into small weak states.

"If the governor of Nasiriya province refused to provide electricity to Baghdad while he was getting a salary from the central government, do you think he will give anything when he is independent? We are not ready for this nonsense yet," said Safaa al-Ani, a retired military officer.

Iraqis voted on the new charter
in a referendum on 15 October

Mahmud al-Azzawi, also a prominent member of the National Dialogue Congress claimed the entire electoral process was rigged.

"Fraud occurred, especially in regard to the Mosul vote. It is too big to have any dispute about."

He added: "Eighty-six per cent of Mosul's residents voted NO and that was according to accurate statistics made by over 300 independent supervisors in the province."

Salih al-Mutlag, the spokesman for the National Dialogue Congress, said a recount in Mosul will possibly be demanded.

"There was fraud everywhere, but it is Mosul that matters, because it was pivotal to defeating this unaccepted constitution," he said.

Celebrations

In the suburbs of Baghdad, celebrations broke out and even policemen fired in the air. Many said the constitution would usher in a new era.

Despite the political rift growing over the passage of the constitution, some politicians took the middle ground.

A senior member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which negotiated last minute amendments to the draft, said Iraqis should look forward to the coming elections.

Speaking on condition of anonymity from the Salihya district in Baghdad he said: "Let us get rid of idle arguments about it and see what the coming period will be like. This constitution is not gospel and delaying it will only add to the hardships of our people."