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Panel Says 63% Voted in Iraq; Sunni Turnout Rises Sharply

Results are delayed for an audit of tallies from some provinces. Iranian leader Khamenei praises the referendum as 'a great and blessed job.'

October 22, 2005|From Associated Press

BAGHDAD — Sixty-three percent of Iraq's 15.5 million registered voters cast ballots in last week's constitutional referendum, at least 3 percentage points higher than in January's parliamentary elections, the nation's electoral commission said Friday.

The highest turnout -- 90% -- was recorded in the Kurdish province of Irbil in the north. The lowest was 32%, in the Sunni Arab province of Al Anbar, a hotbed of Iraq's 2 1/2 -year-old insurgency.

Overall, Sunni Arabs participated in much larger numbers than in January, when most of them boycotted the vote. Only 2% of Al Anbar's registered voters cast ballots in January.

Another Sunni Arab majority province, Salahuddin, saw the second-highest turnout -- 88% -- in Saturday's referendum, said Farid Ayar, a spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq.

Turnout in Baghdad, home to an estimated 6 million people, was 56%, Ayar said.

Across the country, about 9,775,000 people cast ballots.

Official results are expected to be announced next week, a delay because tallies from several provinces will be audited after commission officials said they showed an unexpectedly high number of yes votes.

Initial figures leaked by election officials suggest 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces voted yes, with a vast majority in Salahuddin and Al Anbar voting no. That would assure the proposed constitution's passage, but it is unclear how the audit will affect the final figures.

On Friday, Iran's supreme leader, long a critic of the United States, praised the constitutional referendum in Iraq as "blessed" and urged Iraqis to participate in upcoming parliamentary elections.

Delivering a prayer sermon at Tehran University, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned those behind the daily bombings in Iraq, comparing them to Saddam Hussein.

"What is the difference between those who detonate bombs and kill people today and Saddam, who is on trial for killing people in the past?" Khamenei asked.

"Those who blow up mosques and kill Shiites are neither Sunni nor Shiite," he said. "They are against Islam."

Khamenei, a Shiite, has often condemned the U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying Washington has only itself to blame for the difficulties its forces face in the country.

On Friday, however, he said the referendum on the proposed constitution was a "great and blessed job."

In his sermon, broadcast live on national TV and radio, Khamenei urged Iraqis to vote in December's general elections.

Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war in the 1980s. But since the ouster of Hussein, a secular Sunni Arab, and the election of a new Iraqi government led by Shiites, ties between the two countries have warmed.

Sunni Arabs, a minority in Iraq, however, are concerned about Iran's growing influence in the country.

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