IRAQ: Iraq's most senior Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, is expected to issue an edit calling on the faithful to vote in favour of the country's proposed constitution in the October 15th referendum.
The endorsement of the controversial document by such a revered figure as the ayatollah should ensure that a large majority of Shias vote in favour. In August, he called upon Shias to register and cast their ballots in the referendum.
Ayatollah Sistani is satisfied with a provision which declares no legislation can be adopted which contradicts the tenets of Islam, but he does not back the introduction of federalism.
Although most devout Shias will abide by his fatwa, the Shia vote could split three ways. On Thursday, conservative Shia cleric Muhammad Yaqoubi urged his followers to vote no because Islamic Sharia will not be the sole source of law. And populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an opponent of the US occupation, is against the constitution because he believes that federalism will lead to the break-up of the country.
As news of Ayatollah Sistani's view was broadcast from Najaf, 150 Iraqi Sunni clerics and tribal leaders meeting in Jordan called for the rejection of the constitu- tion on the grounds that its adoption would precipitate the disintegration of Iraq.
"We urge all the Iraqi people to go to the polls and say no to the constitution," stated Sheikh Abdul-Latif Himayem, a prominent cleric from Ramadi, a restive town west of Baghdad.
If Mr al-Sadr sticks to his stand, he could help the Sunnis defeat the constitution. Sunnis are the majority in three provinces - Anbar, Salahedin, and Ninevah - but, alone, they may not be able to secure a no from the necessary two-thirds in all three provinces. Mr al-Sadr, who enjoys the backing of two million Shias dwelling in Sadr city, a suburb of Baghdad, could deliver the capital.
Before the January parliamentary poll, Ayatollah Sistani not only called upon Shias to vote, but also gave his tacit endorsement to the United Iraqi Alliance (a coalition of Shia parties which won the majority of seats in the assembly and now dominates the government). However, an authoritative source reports that he is displeased with the failure of the government to provide security, and may refuse to extend his backing to the alliance in the December 15th election for a full-term parliament.
Reuters adds: A suicide bomber in a car blew himself up at a bus station in central Baghdad yesterday, killing at least five people and wounding 17, police said. He was carrying passengers in his car when he detonated an explosives belt, they said. The explosion took place in the Baab al-Sharjee area, where insurgents frequently target US and Iraqi troops.