UN officials have been meeting with Iraqi authorities and are confident that Iraq will ultimately agree to sound electoral rules, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday.

Iraq's parliament approved on Sunday new rules specifying that it would require a simple majority of those turning out to vote to approve the draft constitution, while it would take two-thirds of those registered to vote in at least three provinces to vote no in order for it to be rejected.

"You cannot have two different meanings in one article. It's using interpretation to your own benefit," according to a UN official who requested anonymity.

According to Article 61C of the Transitional Administrative Law, a two-thirds "no" vote in each of any three provinces is enough to reject the draft constitution in the 15 October referendum.

The original article reads: "The general referendum will be successful and the draft constitution ratified if a majority of the voters in Iraq approve and if two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates do not reject it."

More difficult

On Sunday, parliament changed the rules to read "voter" in the first instance and "registered voter" in the second, making it more difficult for those opposed to the draft constitution to reject it.

A number of Sunni Arabs have already called for a "no" vote to the constitution because they believe that its federalist provisions will divide the country.

Parliament has made rejection of
the charter practically impossible

"Ultimately, this will be a sovereign decision by the Iraqis and it's up to the Iraqi National Assembly to decide on the appropriate electoral framework," UN spokesman Dujarric said.

"That being said, it is our duty in our role in Iraq to point out when the process does not meet international standards."
 
Dujarric said that as far as he knew, there had been no discussion between the UN and the Americans on the issue.
 
The dispute came as officials began distributing the constitution to the public, less than two weeks before the vote. Some five million copies printed by the UN arrived in Iraq on Monday, and officials began passing the first ones out, said Laura Makdissi, a UN official in Baghdad.

Sunni participation

A Sunni boycott of the 15 October referendum would deeply undermine the legitimacy of a constitution that the US had hoped would bring together the country's disparate factions and erode support among Iraq's Sunni Arab minority for the anti-government campaign.

Sunnis oppose the constitution, but US officials are still trying to ensure they participate in the vote.

"You cannot have two different meanings in one article. It's using interpretation to your own benefit"

UN official commenting on new rules approves by Iraqi parliament

In another development, the UN in New York on Monday sought to play down an internal confidential report which suggests the draft constitution is a recipe for the country's disintegration.

Newsweek reported in its latest issue that the confidential report, dated 15 September, warned that the draft was a "model for the territorial division of the state".

UN spokesman Dujarric stressed this was only an internal report, adding that "as far as the UN is concerned, the constitution itself will have to be judged by the Iraqis on 15 October during the referendum".