Iraqi city braces for critical vote |

Iraqi city braces for critical vote

Daily Staff Report

HADITHA, Iraq – U.S. Marines handed out thousands of fliers and copies of Iraq’s new constitution Thursday, urging people to vote in this Sunni Arab town that only a week ago was the target of U.S. airstrikes.But with the crucial referendum on the charter just two days away, many residents still did not know where to cast ballots. Across Iraq’s insurgent heartland – the overwhelmingly Sunni Arab province of Anbar – fears of attacks have limited plans to only a handful of heavily fortified polling stations.Even then, the sites were still unannounced Thursday for security reasons, officials said, and a ban on vehicle traffic will force many residents to walk miles to vote.And American forces were not the only ones waging a public campaign: Insurgents had distributed fliers of their own before the U.S.-led offensive, Iraqi soldiers said, threatening that anyone who votes will be beheaded.All these factors could depress turnout in a region key to whether the constitution is accepted or rejected.The U.S. military hopes Sunni participation will draw those who feel marginalized into the political process and erode support for the insurgency.It may not work that way in Anbar, a province of 1.3 million people. Almost the entire population is Sunni Arab, the minority that held power under Saddam Hussein. Many Sunnis believe the constitution will only solidify the domination of majority Shiites and the Kurds – a sentiment that could drive some to join those fighting the government and its U.S. backers.And whether the final result on the constitution is “yes” or “no,” Sunnis here may feel more alienated than ever if they didn’t feel they were able to vote.One Haditha resident, an engineer with four children who previously served in the Iraqi air force, stood aside as Marines searched his home for illegal weapons. He did not even know when the referendum was being held, but added that he wouldn’t vote anyway because he suspected the vote was rigged.”There are many forces in Iraq and Haditha that prevent my voice from being heard,” he said. “This constitution was not made under fair conditions, you know.”

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