[Indymedia.be TRANSLATION] [TT] illdoit: Iraq shuts down as early
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Fri Oct 14 15:55:18 PDT 2005
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Iraq shuts down as early voting starts
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Body: Text by "The Iraq solidarity campaign", 14.10.2005 16:57
US and Iraqi forces stepped-up security across Iraq on Thursday and prepared to impose an overnight curfew in an effort to reduce insurgent attacks aimed at wrecking this weekend's constitutional referendum.
One day after Iraqi lawmakers approved a set of last-minute amendments to the constitution without a vote, sealing a compromise designed to win minority Sunni Arab support for the charter, cities such as Baghdad were unusually quiet on Thursday as a four-day national holiday began, closing government offices and schools ahead of Saturday's vote.
A 10:00pm to 6:00am curfew also was being imposed Thursday, and the following day the country's borders will be closed and all travel among its provinces stopped.
US President George W. Bush sought to rally American troops in Iraq ahead of the vote and to brace them for an expected surge in violence, saying "the enemy understands that a free Iraq would be a blow to their vision." "We're never going to back down, we're never going to give in, we'll never accept anything less than total victory," Bush said in a video- conference with soldiers from the army's 42nd Infantry Division based in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.
A US soldier was killed Thursday when a roadside bomb hit his combat patrol near Dujail, 80 kilometres north of Baghdad, the military said. The death brought to 1,965 the number of US service members killed since the beginning of the war in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Working under cover of darkness, US and Iraqi forces continued to raid suspected militant safe houses in cities such as Baghdad, and to build 1.2-meter-tall concrete barriers topped with concertina wire in front of polling places such as schools. The walls are designed to protect the areas from bombing by insurgents.
Police went even further in Mosul, a city northwest of Baghdad that has suffered many militant attacks, imposing a ban Wednesday night on all civilian vehicles. A roadside bomb exploded near a US military convoy there Thursday morning, killing two Iraqi civilians and wounding one, said police Brig. Gen. Saeed Ahmed Jibouri.
A car bomb and a roadside bomb killed two soldiers and two policemen in two separate attacks in the northern city of Kirkuk, police said.
In the last 18 days, at least 445 people have been killed in Iraq in militant violence as the insurgents try to scare voters away from the polls Saturday. Most of the fatalities have been caused by suicide car bombs, roadside bombs and drive-by shootings. The bodies of many other Iraqis who had been kidnapped and killed have been found in isolated areas.
"Our soldiers recognise that they are not here to influence the election, but they are here to allow the Iraqi people the opportunity to vote," said US Lt. Col. Jeff Edge, as his battalion delivered barriers to a volatile, mostly Sunni Arab area of southwest Baghdad.
During the first three days this week, Iraqi and US forces in the capital, backed by Black Hawk helicopters, reported capturing 75 suspected insurgents, seizing three large weapons caches and rescuing an Iraqi man who had been kidnapped by insurgents.
There are now 156,000 US troops in Iraq, a total that has been rising in recent weeks as the 101st Airborne returns, along with lead elements of the 3rd Corps Support Command. Before that regularly scheduled rotation, the number was about 140,000, the military said.
In another development, thousands of Iraqi detainees who have not been brought to trial were allowed to vote early in the constitutional referendum at US prisons such as the notorious Abu Ghraib detention centre.
It was not immediately known if the voters included Saddam. The Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq had said the imprisoned former leader would be allowed to vote, but its general director, Adel Allami, said Thursday he did not know whether Saddam had.
Saddam's long-awaited trial begins Wednesday. He and seven of his regime's henchmen are accused of ordering the 1982 massacre of 143 people in a mainly Shiite town north of Baghdad following a failed attack on Saddam's life.
Patients in many of Iraq's overcrowded hospitals also were allowed to vote Thursday.
Iraqis watching state-owned Iraqiya television on Wednesday night, saw the national assembly approve a set of last-minute amendments to the constitution without a vote, sealing a compromise designed to win Sunni support and to boost chances for the charter's approval in Saturday's referendum.
At least one major Sunni Arab party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said it will now support the draft at the polls. But some other Sunni parties rejected the amendments and said they would still campaign for a "no" vote.
Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, also weighed in, ordering Shiites to vote "yes" in the referendum, one of his aides, Faisal Thbub, said. It was the most direct show of support for the charter by Sistani, whose call brought out huge numbers of voters to back Shiite parties in January elections.
The national assembly's most significant change is the introduction of a mechanism allowing Sunni Arabs to try to make more substantive changes in the constitution later, after a new parliament is elected in December.
Sunnis want to weaken the considerable autonomous powers the Shiite and Kurdish mini-states would have under the constitution. But there's no guarantee they will succeed: They will still likely face strong opposition from majority Shiites and Kurds in the new parliament.
The amendments also made some key symbolic concessions to Sunni Arabs, starting with the first article underlining that Iraq will be a single nation with its unity guaranteed a nod to fears among the disaffected minority that the draft as it stood would fragment the country.
That was not enough, however, for many Sunni leaders.
On Thursday, the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars urged the Iraqi Islamic Party to withdraw its support for a constitution that would "fragment Iraq and destroy its identity." In the a statement, the association urged Sunnis to vote "no" in the referendum.
Still, the changes will likely split the Sunni vote enough to prevent them from defeating the draft constitution. The draft will be rejected if more than two-thirds of the voters oppose it in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces, and Sunnis have the potential to do so in just four.
The charter's passage is a key goal of the United States, since failure would mean months more political instability and would delay US plans to start pulling troops out of Iraq.
The Jordan Times
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