Iraqi parliament reverses election rules changes; bomb kills 25 at Shiite mosque |

Iraqi parliament reverses election rules changes; bomb kills 25 at Shiite mosque

Qassim Abdul-Zahra

BAGHDAD, Iraq – It was a political victory for U.S. and U.N. leaders who are trying to push Iraq toard a democratic future. They hope success won’t be short-lived.They pressured Iraq’s Shiite Muslim-led parliament Wednesday into dropping late electoral law changes that could have tainted next week’s constitutional referendum with a protest boycott by Sunni Arab voters.But while the reversal boosts chances Sunnis will see the vote as fair and participate, giving the outcome credibility, it will also make it easier for the Sunni attempt to defeat the proposed charter at the polls, prolonging Iraq’s political instability.The United States in particular is eager to have the constitution adopted, seen that as key to beginning the withdrawal of some American troops.As the political crisis over voting rules evaporated, there was no let-up by insurgents in their bloody campaign to disrupt the Oct. 15 referendum.A bomb exploded at the entrance of a Shiite Muslim mosque south of Baghdad, killing at least 25 people and wounding 87 as hundreds gathered for prayers at the start of the holy month of Ramadan and for the funeral of a man killed two days ago in a bombing at his restaurant.It was the latest in a string of attacks by the Sunni-dominated insurgency that have primarily targeted Shiites in killing more than 270 people the past 10 days. The terrorist group Al-Qaida in Iraq has declared “all-out war” on Shiites, urging an escalation in violence during Ramadan.The mosque blast came hours after U.S. and U.N. pressure induced parliament to reverse electoral changes made over the weekend that would have ensured passage of a new constitution but that were called unfair by the United Nations.Saleh al-Mutlaq, a top Sunni politician, said the boycott threat over the election law was lifted. “With this result, the Sunni Arabs will be able to defeat the constitution,” he told The Associated Press. “I am sure if there is honesty (in the election process) 95 percent of the Sunni Arabs will vote ‘no.”‘But he warned that Sunnis might still call a boycott if two major U.S. offensives in predominantly Sunni western Iraq do not end soon, saying the turmoil will suppress Sunni voting.”If the ongoing military operations continue, we will have no other choice but to call for a boycott simply because we will be having no role to play in the political process to tell our opinion about the constitution,” he said.U.S. commanders have said operations Iron Fist and River Gate, in towns along the Euphrates River, will be finished ahead of the referendum. The twin offensives aim to break insurgents’ hold their so residents feel safe going to the polls.Members of the ruling Shiite-led coalition lay the groundwork to challenge the referendum results if the charter doesn’t get enough votes, expressing fears that insurgent violence could prevent pro-constitution voters from going to the polls and swing key Sunni provinces toward rejection.”The National Assembly and the judicial system should take people’s complaints seriously if they say they cannot vote freely because of terrorism,” said deputy speaker Hussain al-Shahristani.Iraq’s Shiite majority, concentrated in the south, and the Kurdish minority in the north overwhelmingly support the constitution. Sunni Arabs make up only 20 percent of the population but can still defeat the constitution if they get a two-thirds “no” vote in any three of Iraq’s 18 provinces. There are four provinces where they have a chance of doing so.The Shiite-led parliament tried to close that loophole Sunday by issuing a new interpretation of the rules, saying two-thirds of registered voters had to vote “no” – not two-thirds of those casting ballots. That raised the bar for rejection, and outraged Sunnis threatened a boycott.The United States said it was better to have fair rules to ensure strong Sunni turnout. “The constitution has been written. Folks will have a chance to vote it up or down,” President Bush said.The United Nations called the change unfair, and U.N. and U.S. officials pressed the government to reinstate the original rules.On Wednesday parliament did so. The resolution passed 119 to 28, but some Shiite members staunchly defended the initial change.”This will mean that the opinion of the majority will be crushed by the opinion of the minority,” said lawmaker Maraim al-Reis, denouncing the U.S. and U.N. pressure. “We could have 30 people vote in three provinces, with 20 voting no – so 20 persons can bring down a constitution approved by 6 or 7 million.”U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the reversal but expressed disappointment that the referendum process had not united Iraqis.”We support an all-inclusive process and we had hoped that this electoral process … would pull the Iraqis together,” Annan said. “It has not worked as we had hoped, but we still urge the parties to work together and I believe the reversal by the parliament of the decision last night would help the process.”Vail, Colorado

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