Iraq Constitution Voting Draws Optimism Amid Concerns

The votes are in for Iraq's landmark constitution and many predict its approval, marking a major step in creating a democratic government.

Saturday's overall turnout at the polls was at 63-64 percent, according to Reuters, including a high number of Sunni participation, most of whom rejected the draft.

"On behalf of the American people, I'd like to congratulate the people of Iraq for the successful completion of a vote on their draft constitution," President George W. Bush told reporters yesterday. "By all indications, the turnout was greater than the turnout from the last January election, which is good news."

A two-thirds "no" vote in three of Iraq's 18 provinces is needed to defeat the new charter. While tallied votes indicate that the Sunni party met the mark in Anbar province and Salahuddin, the majority in other provinces put in the "yes" vote.

"So my guess is, yes, it will be passed," said Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari to CNN.

"This is a very positive day for the Iraqis and, as well, for world peace," said Bush. "Democracies are peaceful countries."

Freedom House released a statement of concern on Sunday with emphasis on the efforts that need to be undertaken once the passage is confirmed in order to ensure the freedom and rights of the people as stated in the constitution.

Pointing out the positive attributes contained in the draft, which asserts religious freedom and democratic principles, Freedom House analysts said they are still troubled by the provisions relating to the Supreme Federal Court. Shari’a experts are to be included on the Supreme Court without the requirement of civil law education.

"The implications for dissidents, including religious dissenters, as well as for legitimate political opposition, women, religious minorities and non-believers, are quite troubling and ominous," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "There is a real risk that all these groups will face serious dangers in the new Iraq."

Some fear the rise of Sunni-led insurgency once the constitution is officially approved.

When the draft is passed, Iraqis will vote on Dec. 15 for a new parliament which will be installed by Dec. 31. Last minute changes to the draft allow the new parliament to consider amendments in the following months.

Final results of the vote will not be in for days, according to Carina Perelli, who leads a team of U.N. advisers working with Iraq officials.

As Iraqis and the world stand by for the assured tally marks, Bush welcomed the new charter as a positive step toward freedom and the possible withdrawal of U.S. troops with the establishment of a democratic government.

"We're making progress toward peace," he said. "We're making progress toward an ally that will join us in the war on terror, that will prevent al Qaeda from establishing safe haven in Iraq, and a country that will serve as an example for others who aspire to live in freedom."