Iraq Probes Referendum Results

Some Sunni Arab leaders are charging fraud in Saturday's vote on the Iraqi constitution. Iraq's election commission is investigating what it calls "unusually high" numbers of votes in favor of the constitution in several provinces. Renee Montagne talks to Dexter Filkins, a reporter with The New York Times.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Iraq's Election Commission is investigating what it calls `unusually high numbers' of yes votes in several provinces during last weekend's referendum on the constitution. The investigation is focused on 12 predominantly Shiite and Kurdish provinces. There, as many as 99 percent of voters are reported to have cast ballots in favor of the constitution. Joining me now from Baghdad is New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins.

Good morning.

Mr. DEXTER FILKINS (The New York Times): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Some Sunni Arab leaders have alleged fraud in Saturday's voting. One told you in the article in today's Times that he knew of ballot stuffing at one polling place. Is there evidence to support these claims?

Mr. FILKINS: There's not any that anybody is seeing. I mean, maybe this particular Sunni politician did. You know, when you have a 99 percent vote total, it does kind of, you know, bring back memories of the Soviet Union or even of Saddam. What's unusual here, and I think what's puzzling, is that neither the Shiites nor the Kurds really had much reason to commit fraud, if you thought about their position. I mean, most people simply--if you add 80 percent of the population together, and most of the voters, the overwhelming majority of the voters anyway, probably would have supported the constitution. So it's kind of--the whole thing is kind of puzzling.

MONTAGNE: Well, how are Iraqi election officials going about their investigation?

Mr. FILKINS: Well, there's an Iraqi election commission, and there are six people on it, and then there's a seventh member who's from the United Nations, an international member. And they can go back, basically, over the entire process. They'll check the registration forms. They'll see how many people signed in, how many people voted. I think they'll try to reconstruct the vote in some of these areas, and just see if they come across stuff that looks fishy.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. You know, interesting--the leaders there are--have a lot to do with how people vote. They tell them, `Vote yes,' `Vote no,' and, in theory, a lot of people will follow that. Could that account for a very high percentage of yeses?

Mr. FILKINS: Yeah, it could. It actually could. I mean, you know, this is certainly a very polarized society, and it's also one that's politically, democratically kind of immature. And, you know, in the United States or western Europe, leaders offer endorsements and people kind of take them or leave them, but here they tend--you know, they mean a lot, and so, for example, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who's, you know, revered and with unquestioning allegiance, really, by a great majority of the Shiites, who are a majority of the country--I talked to Shiite voters on Saturday who said, `Well, I didn't really get a chance to read the constitution but, you know, the--Ayatollah Sistani supporter, so I'm for it.' And so it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility, though, you know, 99 percent of people voting all one way is pretty surprising, even under those circumstances.

MONTAGNE: Well, just very quickly: When is this supposed to get sorted out? And then what might be the likely outcome?

Mr. FILKINS: That's a good question. I mean, everything in this whole process, you know, dating back now a year and a half--there's just one deadline after another leading to the December 15th full-term parliamentary elections. So I think there's a sense of urgency among everybody to figure out if there's fraud, and to figure out if these problems are real or whether it's just an--extraordinarily high percentages that happen to be legitimate.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. FILKINS: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Dexter Filkins is a reporter for The New York Times, joining us on the line from Baghdad.

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