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Iraq's president is calling on his countrymen to accept the new constitution, despite protests by the Sunni minority. A draft constitution was completed on Sunday with the support of Iraq's Shiite-dominated parliament, but it did not have the approval of the Sunnis on the drafting committee. And Sunni leaders have vowed to defeat the document in an October referendum. As NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Baghdad, on the streets Iraqis got their first look at the draft constitution today.
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DEBORAH AMOS reporting:
Iraq's state-run television broadcast pictures of cheering crowds celebrating Iraq's first postwar constitution. The happy faces with popular music came from the largely Shiite areas of the country. The reaction was very different today in the mostly Sunni town of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, where hundreds marched for Iraqi unity and against the constitution's provisions, for example, fully autonomous regions for the Kurdish and the Arab parts of Iraq. Sunni leaders have already started to mobilize a massive voter turnout.
The political battle lines seem drawn, but most Iraqis have hardly had time to read the 39-page document. The final draft was printed in newspapers only this morning. Government officials began to distribute millions of copies around the country today.
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AMOS: On Karada Street, the main shopping district in Baghdad, Wahil Rahman(ph), a Sunni, is a cook at the Abu Flan restaurant(ph).
Mr. WAHIL RAHMAN (Cook, Abu Flan): (Through Translator) I do not know anything about the constitution. When? Where? What happened? But I will vote yes.
AMOS: The deadline for registering to vote is only three days away, although Iraq's electoral commission extended the deadline by one week in Anbar province, a predominantly Sunni area, where continuing violence has made it difficult to keep centers open. But even in the capital, Wahmid al-Nahari(ph), a Shiite, says he's not been able to sign up.
Mr. WAHMID AL-NAHARI: (Through Translator) My neighborhood is a bit of a hot spot and they have not opened a registration center yet. I heard that they will open one in the next few days. I will vote yes.
AMOS: Mustaffa Abbas(ph) says the constitution calls for federalism; he's against that because he believes Iraq will break apart.
Mr. MUSTAFFA ABBAS: (Through Translator) I think federalism divides people. My brother is Sunni, my cousin is Shiite; there is no difference between us. No, I will not go vote.
AMOS: Iraqis now have about six weeks to consider the constitution's provisions on federalism, religion, personal freedoms and the distribution of oil revenues. Iraqi politicians have time to mobilize and mount campaigns in what is expected to be a bitter fight. The constitution can be defeated if two-thirds of voters in any three provinces turn it down. Ninawa province in northern Iraq is likely to be a key battleground, with a mixed population including Sunni Arabs, Kurds, as well as other minorities.
Humain al-Qado(ph) is a Shabak(ph), a minority Islamic sect. He was a member of the constitutional committee, but agreed with the Sunni delegates in rejecting the final draft. When his community demonstrated against the constitution in Ninawa's capital city, Mosul, al-Qado says Kurdish militiamen fired on the crowd and later arrested some protesters.
Mr. HUMAIN AL-QADO (Shabak): We had many demonstrations in Mosul. One of the demonstrations was probably 10 days ago, and that demonstration was encountered by bullets and shoot. And that was, really, very bad, and people were scared.
AMOS: Al-Qado says he's convinced his community will vote against the Kurds and the constitution in October, along with the Sunni Arabs.
Mr. AL-QADO: I think we are going to align with Sunni forces in Mosul. And also, many of them, as a matter of fact, are going to join us to defeat the constitution.
AMOS: It is now a numbers game across Iraq as Iraqis debate and argue and finally vote on the document that will define the future of the country. Deborah Amos, NPR News, Baghdad.
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