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Iraq bombs kill nearly 30 before constitution vote

October 11, 2005

Iraq bombs kill nearly 30 before constitution vote

By Andrew Quinn

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two bomb attacks killed nearly 30 Iraqis in the northern town of Tal Afar and in Baghdad on Tuesday, four days before a referendum on a draft constitution that has divided Iraq's main communities. 

A car bomb blew up in a market in Tal Afar, killing at least 24 people and wounding 36, according to Saleh Kadoo, head doctor at the hospital in the town near the Syrian border where Iraqi and U.S. troops launched an offensive on insurgents last month. 

Iraqi soldiers view destroyed vehicles after a suicide car bomb attack in Baghdad October 11, 2005. (REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani)
A suicide car bomber attacked an Iraqi army convoy in a part of western Baghdad where insurgents are strong, killing five people and wounding 12, an Interior Ministry official said. 

U.S. President George W. Bush, who has mounted a diplomatic push to get the constitution passed, said he was confident Iraqis would make their voices heard despite the bloodshed. 

"I expect violence because there's a group of terrorists and killers who want to try to stop the advance of democracy in Iraq," Bush said in an interview with NBC's "Today" show. 

"I also expect people to vote, which is a remarkable achievement," he added. 

In Baghdad, U.S. officials met for a third consecutive day with Shi'ite, Kurdish and Sunni leaders in a last-ditch effort to win Sunni support before Saturday's referendum. 

Few negotiators thought a deal was likely, however. What was at stake were "tweaks" in wording rather than a basic revision of the charter to be put to the voters, one U.S. official said. 


Ayad al-Samaraie, a senior member of the Islamic Party, a Sunni group involved in the talks, reported no progress yet. 

"We held to our demands and other parties have suggested some additional points to be added to the draft," he said. 

Some Sunni Muslim Arab leaders say the constitution will seal their political doom and hand control of the country to the Shi'ite Muslim majority and its Kurdish allies. 

Fears among the Sunnis, who make up just 20 percent of Iraq's population but who dominated the country under Saddam Hussein, lie at the heart of an increasingly bloody insurgency that has killed hundreds of civilians in recent months. 

The constitution was meant to unite postwar Iraq, but the referendum could bring outright civil war closer if Sunni Arabs are left feeling alienated and disenfranchised. 

Washington sees the constitution as a key element of its plan to establish a stable, democratic Iraqi government, which would allow it to withdraw its 140,00 U.S. soldiers whose deployment in Iraq is increasingly unpopular at home. 

Participants say the Baghdad talks, led by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, focus on constitutional clauses which would allow Kurds in the north and Shi'ites in the south to create largely independent regions -- seen by Sunnis as a recipe for breaking up Iraq and depriving them of oil revenues. 

Iraq's chief government spokesman Laith Kubba said the talks indicated how much weight both Baghdad and Washington put on achieving a constitutional consensus. 

"We are all keen as politicians to have a high consensus, espcially as we are at war against an international network of terrorists who are operating freely in our country," he said. 

Iraqi officials preparing for the vote announced that the first ballots would be cast on Thursday as early polling is permitted at hospitals and detention centres. 

Sunnis are widely expected either to boycott Saturday's referendum or vote "No". If two thirds of voters in three of Iraq's 18 provinces vote "No", the constitution will fail. 

While Sunnis are a majority in at least three provinces, they are not expected to be able to raise enough votes to defeat the charter. If they fail to do so, that may end up fuelling the insurgency raging across the country for more than two years. 

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny, Michael Georgy and Hiba Moussa in Baghdad and Nabil Noureddine in Mosul) 


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