Hadi Mizban  /  AP
Iraqis read a draft of the country's constitution in Baghdad on Wednesday.
updated 10/5/2005 10:32:38 AM ET 2005-10-05T14:32:38

Iraq’s National Assembly voted on Wednesday to reverse last-minute changes it had made to rules for next week’s referendum on a new constitution following criticism by the United Nations that the rules were unfair to the Sunni minority.

After a brief debate, the Assembly voted 119-28 to restore the original voting rules for the referendum, which will take place Oct. 15. Washington hopes a majority “yes” vote in the referendum will unite Iraq’s disparate factions and erode support for the country’s bloody insurgency.

U.S. and U.N. officials hope that restoring the original rules will avert a boycott of the referendum by the Sunni minority, action that would have deeply undermined the credibility of the vote and set back efforts to bring Sunnis into the political process.

Many Sunnis oppose the charter and want it rewritten, believing it would divide Iraq and leave Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north with virtual autonomy and control over the country’s oil wealth while isolating Sunnis with little power or revenue in central and western areas.

Sunnis can veto constitution
The original rules, now restored, mean that Sunnis can veto the constitution by getting a two-thirds “no” vote in three provinces, even if the charter wins majority approval nationwide. Sunni Arabs are dominant in four of the 18 provinces.

On Sunday, Iraq’s Shiite- and Kurdish-controlled parliament effectively closed that loophole with their rule change. The legislature decided that a simple majority of those who cast votes means the constitution’s victory — but that two-thirds of registered voters must cast “no” ballots in three provinces to defeat it.

That interpretation had raised the bar to a level almost impossible to meet. In a province of 1 million registered voters, for example, 660,000 would have had to vote “no” — even if that many didn’t even come to the polls.

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