Image: Iraqi ad
Karim Sahib  /  AFP / Getty Images
An Iraqi cleans a freshly printed advertisement for the Oct. 15 referendum on a draft constitution at a printing house in Baghdad on Monday. More than 80 percent of Iraqis plan to vote on the country's post-Saddam Hussein constitution, according to an opinion poll published last month.
updated 10/3/2005 10:33:09 PM ET 2005-10-04T02:33:09

The United Nations has begun distributing millions of copies of Iraq’s draft constitution ahead of an Oct. 15 referendum to approve or reject the document, which was reportedly criticized in a leaked U.N. memo.

U.N. officials on Monday sought to downplay the leaked internal analysis written on Sept. 15 that looked at the document’s weaknesses. Newsweek reported that the memo warned that the constitution is a “model for the territorial division of the State.”

But the officials said it did not mean the U.N. was backing away from the constitution, which was the result of weeks of intense negotiations.

“As far as the U.N. is concerned, the constitution itself will have to be judged by the Iraqis on the 15th of October during the referendum,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. “It should come as no surprise that within the U.N. staff who deal with Iraq there would be papers analyzing latest developments in that country, but it’s an internal analysis.”

Fears of an even more divided country
Many officials both inside and outside Iraq have warned that the constitutional process, meant to unite Iraq, instead underscored divisions among Iraq’s three main communities. Sunni Arab leaders fear the constitution will fragment Iraq, allowing Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north to form mini-states.

The run-up to the referendum has seen a wave of violence from the Sunni-led insurgency, in which more than 200 people have been killed in the past eight days, including 16 U.S. troops. Late last month, the International Crisis Group said the efforts to push through a constitution so quickly had only exacerbated tensions and could make the insurgency worse.

Nonetheless, the referendum is going ahead, and distribution to all of Iraq has begun, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Monday.

Haq said some 4 million copies would be printed in Arabic — at a rate of 250,000 a day — while the Kurdish north will get 1 million. Another 250,000 will be printed in Turkoman, and 150,000 in Syriac languages, modern variants of the Aramaic spoken in Jesus’ time.

Iraqi groups are handling most of the distribution, with Baghdad and southern cities such as Basra and Kerbala already receiving copies, Haq said.

“Printing in Arabic started on Sept. 19, the day after the final text was approved, and it’s being distributed to all and sundry,” Haq said.

Iraq’s Council of Ministers will have various Sunni groups distribute the text to the violent Sunni Triangle, after initially failing to find anyone to do the job because of fears of attack.

Dujarric said the United Nations had received no reports of violence against those distributing the text.

The U.N. has not put a cost on printing and distributing the text, but it will be paid with some of the $25.4 million provided by the European Union, Canada, Denmark, Britain and the United States to support constitutional activities.

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