Sunnis fail to agree boycott of Iraq referendum


The threat of a unified Sunni Arab boycott of next week's constitutional vote in Iraq receded last night as Sunni leaders failed to agree on how to oppose the US-backed document.

After a meeting in a Baghdad mosque, Sunni leaders said they hoped those voters who do decide to participate will vote "No".

The lack of consensus revealed divisions in the Sunni community, with some groups insisting on a boycott to rob the referendum of legitimacy, and others saying a massive Sunni "No" vote was the only way to properly defeat it.

"We do not ask the Iraqi people to boycott or not," said Harith al-Dhari, the head of the Muslim Clerics' Association, one of the Sunni groups arguing strategy ahead of the October 15th referendum.

"We ask them to do everything they legitimately can to reject the draft of the constitution," he told Reuters, leaving followers to choose whether that is to vote "No", or to stay at home.

The Sunnis' meeting came as US forces announced they had ended a week-long operation in western Iraq to secure the area ahead of the vote, killing some 50 insurgents during the offensive near the Syrian border, the military said.

Iraq has been hit by a stepped-up campaign of insurgent bombings and suicide attacks in the run-up to the referendum. A suicide car bomber killed at least seven people in an attack on a police patrol in western Baghdad on Saturday, an Interior Ministry source said. The source said the blast killed one policeman and six civilians. It also wounded 16 people.

The interior minister has announced tough security measures, including curfews, for the time around the vote. Around 15 million Iraqis are registered for the referendum on a constitution proposed by the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led government, which tailored many of the articles to its requirements.