Violence Continues as Iraq Constitution Vote Nears

Iraqi authorities are working on details of the country's constitution. Iraqis will head to the polls to vote on the proposed constitution this Saturday. Host Steve Inskeep talks to Anne Garrels in Baghdad.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're moving next to Iraq, where five days remain until a referendum on a constitution. One major question is whether all of the country's major groups will support that document, and negotiations continue to make it more acceptable to Sunni Arabs. That's the minority that once ruled Iraq and that's now blamed for much of the country's insurgency. Sunni political leaders have been discussing a boycott of the referendum. Now they failed to agree on such a plan over the weekend, but they are urging their supporters to vote no. We're going now to NPR's Anne Garrels in Baghdad who's been following all this.

And Annie, what chances to these last-minute talks have to actually bring some Sunnis on board?

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

Well, so far, it doesn't look like the sides are coming anywhere closer. They remain far apart on basic issues. You know, this isn't the constitution US officials anticipated. They were stunned when at the last minute Shiite leaders demanded the same kind of regional autonomy the Kurds have. Now already locked out, the Sunni Arabs fear that they're going to be denied oil revenues and charge the new federalism will lead to the breakup of the country. They also fear outlawing the Sunni-dominated Ba'ath Party is going to be used against them to block them from jobs and politics. As you noted, some Sunni leaders have insisted on a boycott to rob the vote of legitimacy, but most are saying a massive Sunni no vote is the only way to make their voices known, and possibly defeat it.

Turnout's going to be key, because, though a minority, Sunnis can defeat the charter if they garner two-thirds no vote in any three of Iraqis' 18 provinces, and they have the potential to make that threshold.

INSKEEP: Hmm. Now as the preparations continue for the voting on Saturday, what kind of security measures are being taken?

GARRELS: Well, starting Thursday, there's going to be a four-day public holiday with nightly curfews and a ban on carrying weapons, even licensed weapons. Movement between provinces is going to be banned, and international borders are expected to be closed. And on voting day itself, traffic's going to be barred to prevent suicide attacks. US and Iraqi forces have been conducting large offensives in western Iraq where Sunni Arabs predominate and where insurgents are strong, hoping to disrupt the insurgents' movements ahead of the referendum.

INSKEEP: Well, now there certainly have been great disruptions in recent months in Baghdad caused by the insurgents, but there have been fewer reports of that recently. From where you are, does it seem like that amount of violence is going down?

GARRELS: Well, there haven't been any spectacular car bomb attacks against Shiites in the last few days, but--and US military reports capturing more and more suspected insurgents as well as large weapons caches. But US officials are also warning insurgents could well come up with something spectacular closer to the vote. And you know, on a daily basis there are continued attacks on US and Iraqi forces, and there's a steady drumbeat of sectarian attacks against both Sunnis and Shiites. Over the weekend, in Samarra, gunmen walked into a school, killed a Shiite teacher in front of the students, contributing to an atmosphere of terror there. And Sunnis, in turn, are being picked off by Shiite death squads.

This morning, in Baghdad, five bodies, handcuffed with a single bullet to the head, were found. And that's pretty much a daily occurrence. And in another incident in Baghdad, it looks like two undercover Americans may have been killed in Bag--here in the capital. A source at the Ministry of the Interior reports Iraqi police discovered two dead Americans in a car in a contested neighborhood. Plainclothes Americans and Iraqis suddenly turned up at the scene in Humvees. They didn't identify themselves and initially accused the Iraqi police on the scene of killing the men. They removed the bodies, burned the cars where the two Americans had been found, and then, using considerable force, they swept the nearby area, detaining five men.

INSKEEP: OK. That's NPR's Anne Garrels reporting today from Baghdad. Anne, thanks very much.

GARRELS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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