09/08/2005, 00.00
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Referendum on constitution set for October 15

Kurdish and Shiite representatives tell AsiaNews about the importance of the ballot, "the only way to get the Sunnis to express their views", and the significance of the constitution, "only guarantee for the country's unity".

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – It is official: the referendum on Iraq's constitution will be held on October 15. The country's independent Election Commission today approved the date set by the National Assembly. As Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced, the text of the electoral writ is ready for printing and distribution to voters.

The constitution was presented in parliament on August 28 but did not received the backing of the Sunni minority, which remains opposed to federalism and oil revenue sharing, and is fearful of losing the political clout it once held under Saddam Hussein.

For Saywan Barzani, the Paris-based Kurdish envoy for Europe, the "referendum is the only way for Sunnis—who feel excluded from this government—to express their views".

"They were unable to take part in the January 30 elections because of Islamist and Baathist terrorism," he said. "Consequently, no one today can claim to represent that community."

Ali Al-Bayati, a Shiite and a member of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution as well as spokesman for the Iraqi Embassy in London, is convinced that Sunnis will cooperate using democratic means to find a compromise on the thorniest issues.

"Those who raise fears about the constitution leading to an Islamic state that would trample human rights are former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and foreign terrorists".

"We are moving towards democracy," al-Bayati said. "Sunnis have their concerns, but so do we Shiites and Kurds. After decades of dictatorship this is a new experience and the future seems uncertain, but in a democratic system you talk about finding solutions and we are just doing just that in Iraq".

"The constitution is the only guarantee for the country's unity," said Barzani, whose uncle is

Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

"Kurds, Arabs, Muslims, Christians and all the other communities have now reached a consensus that does not fully satisfy any of the parties, but that responds to most of their aspirations".

The Kurdish diplomat said that this "is the first time in the history of the Mideast that a constitution is written in all-inclusive process that saw all political, ethnic and religious components of the country involved. In the past constitutions were imposed by colonial powers—in 1925 Great Britain gave Iraq its constitution—or by dictators—in 1970, the dictatorial and racist Baathist regime imposed its constitution."

Barzani is convinced that federalism—one of the hottest issues debated by the National Assembly—will "guarantee Iraq's democracy and unity. This form of government will give Kurdistan important powers that will preserve the balance between Sunnis and Shiites without any movement towards an Islamist regime or a dictatorship."

In his view, "most Iraqis will vote for this constitution. Thanks to the help of democratic countries, Iraq is already a democracy and will develop rapidly."
"The only problem that persists is terrorism supported by foreign powers and organisations and backed by ex-Baathist criminals in Sunni areas," he said.

For the Kurdish representative, the "Iraqi people has already expressed itself. Unity within a federal and democratic Iraq is already a fact unless the terrorists convince people in Sunni areas to go back to Baathism, the Kurdish genocide and dominating others," he stressed. "History shows however that terrorism never wins".

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