Iraqis Prepare for Vote on Constitution Iraqis will vote Oct. 15 on the new draft constitution, which would pave the way for national elections in December. Ghassan Atiyyah, director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy, discusses last-minute compromises made leading up to the vote and the need for Sunni Arab support.
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Iraqis Prepare for Vote on Constitution

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Iraqis Prepare for Vote on Constitution

Iraqis Prepare for Vote on Constitution

Iraqis Prepare for Vote on Constitution

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Iraqis will vote Oct. 15 on the new draft constitution, which would pave the way for national elections in December. Ghassan Atiyyah, director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy, discusses last-minute compromises made leading up to the vote and the need for Sunni Arab support.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

Iraqis head to the polls on Saturday to vote on the country's draft constitution. Today, a second prominent Sunni group urged its supporters to vote for the document. Iraq's parliament added provisions at the last minute to allow the constitution to be amended as late as next year. Ghassan Atiyyah is director of a Baghdad think tank called The Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy. He says the changes offered to bring Sunnis into the process are a positive sign.

Mr. GHASSAN ATIYYAH (Director, The Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy): The outcome of it might not meet all what the Sunni require, but at least some of the Sunni accept it. Will this resolve the conflict? Unfortunately, no.

NORRIS: What needs to be done? You say it's more of a symbolic gesture then.

Mr. ATIYYAH: Basically, the problem was the priorities of the Iraqi government, and rather the American administration, were not in order. The priorities should have been stabilization with national reconciliation, and then you proceed to elections and constitution-drafting and constitutional process. They thought otherwise. They thought that having hasty election could stabilize the situation, and that turned to be erroneous. And then they thought that by coming with a draft constitution, regardless of the situation, that will stabilize the situation. That was also an erroneous presumption.

Now they are telling the Sunnis and others the Iraq Constitution is not the holy Koran; it can be changed. And now he opened the door that this could be changed by the next parliament, and encouraging the Sunni and everyone to participate in the election so they will be represented in the next parliament and then they would have the chance to discuss the new constitution.

NORRIS: They've opened the door to change. Have they also opened a Pandora's box?--because it means that there could be continual changes in the constitution, that this process may never end.

Mr. ATIYYAH: This is well said. The constitution is full of traps which could explode any minute. This will bring us the same old problem that there should have been enough time for the constitutional process. Even in the United States, it took them more than 10 years to finish this constitutional process. So they are giving it enough time, but in a way which will keep all of Iraqis under pressure and rather unstable for the coming years.

NORRIS: Now as you say, this latest compromise was meant to ensure Sunni participation, but I'm wondering how that might work since the document was already distributed before these changes were made. How will Sunnis know about these compromises?

Mr. ATIYYAH: The way I see it, the constitution and the details are irrelevant to the Iraqis now. They didn't have time to read it and to discuss it. But nevertheless, now people will decide without even going to detail of it because Grand Ayatollah Sistani has just declared that he encourage the Iraqi people to take part in the referendum and to vote yes. So those religiously oriented Shia will definitely abide by his command or his wishes.

Similarly, the Sunni cleric also made a declaration saying, `You have to fight this constitution either by voting against it or boycotting it.' People will decide, and they have already made up their mind how to vote, regardless of the detail.

NORRIS: But, Mr. Atiyyah, it sounds like you're predicting that the majority of the Shiites and the Kurds will show up and vote yes...

Mr. ATIYYAH: Yes.

NORRIS: ...and that a majority of the Sunnis will vote no. Will enough of them show up at the polls to constitute that simple majority, two-thirds of the voters, in at least three provinces to kill this? And if so, what happens then?

Mr. ATIYYAH: I could say almost for sure there will not be--the constitution will be adopted, and the Sunni will not be able to muster two-thirds majority in three provinces, especially now when one faction of the Sunni group has decided to vote for the constitution. But I will tell you one thing. If the result of the referendum reflect a sense of fairness to the Sunnis and to the Shia and to the Kurds, maybe this will encourage them to continue to play ball as far as the political process is concerned. And then this is--will hopefully will strengthen moderate Sunnis and moderate Shia to feel that it's better to them to cooperate against the extreme Sunnis and extreme Shia. So everything is open now for the Iraqi politics.

NORRIS: Ghassan Atiyyah is the director of the Baghdad think tank called The Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy. He spoke to us from London.

Mr. Atiyyah, thank you so much.

Mr. ATIYYAH: Thank you very much.

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