Security Beefed Up Ahead of Iraq Referendum

Iraq has closed its borders and shut down Baghdad International Airport ahead of Saturday's referendum on a draft constitution; Iraqi and U.S. troops are on high alert. Steve Inskeep talks to Borzou Daragahi, Baghdad correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Iraq closed its borders and shut down Baghdad international airport today. These are some of the preparations for a nationwide referendum on a constitution which is coming on Saturday. In a moment, we'll talk to the commander of US forces in Iraq. We'll start our coverage with Borzou Daragahi. He's a Baghdad correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and he's on the line from Iraq.

What are the streets like today?

Mr. BORZOU DARAGAHI (Los Angeles Times): It's very quiet. Usually it's a little bit more busy on a Friday morning. Just over the past few days, though, it's been spooky. There's been very little vehicle traffic, especially at night. It's been just a ghost town basically and right now--you know, usually you hear the roar of traffic from our hotel, but all I can hear is the occasional helicopter.

INSKEEP: Now insurgent leaders, some of them, have been saying that they will not interfere with this vote. What are they trying to do, as best you can determine?

Mr. DARAGAHI: There's a couple different strategies at work. I think that they want the Sunni Arabs to go and vote no, some of them, and then, you know, either they think they can muster up enough votes to defeat the referendum or they think that it'll be such a disappointment for the Sunni Arabs when they don't get the no that they want when the referendum passes that they'll be even more alienated and even more drawn to violent extremist groups. So it's a win-win proposition for them to let people vote.

INSKEEP: So we have three major groups in Iraq. We have Shiite Muslims and Kurds who seem to be expected to approve this constitution. We have Sunnis who are divided. Some leaders have signed on this week, after some changes were made in the proposed constitution, but still there's a Sunni member of the government who predicts the constitution will fail. Why such pessimism at this moment?

Mr. DARAGAHI: I think that the pessimism is misplaced. The constitution will more likely than not succeed in terms of the referendum, but whether it will succeed in terms of quelling the insurgency and drawing Sunni Arabs into the political fold and away from the violence, that's a big question. And it doesn't appear at this point that those Sunni Arabs that are most drawn to the insurgency are in favor of this constitution.

INSKEEP: OK. Borzou Daragahi is a Baghdad correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. Thanks very much.

Mr. DARAGAHI: It's been a pleasure.

INSKEEP: And you can find complete coverage of Iraq's constitutional referendum at npr.org.

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