Iraq claims constitutional voting without fraud

Iraqi officials checking results from some regions in Saturday's constitutional referendum said on Tuesday the audit did not imply fraud in the voting. Iraq's Electoral Commission said on Monday it would follow international practice by examining "unusually high" results from provinces which recorded margins of 90 percent or more in favour or against the new draft constitution.

The statement fueled debate over the bitterly fought referendum, with some Sunni Arab leaders suggesting the Shiite- and Kurdish-led government had fiddled with numbers to ensure passage of the U.S.-backed charter, Reuters says.

But Commission member Farid Ayar said on Tuesday that lopsided turnouts were not unexpected in Iraq, where historic sectarian divisions have been exacerbated by months of bloody ethnic and communal violence, polarising local results.

"It's not surprising where you have 95 percent, for example, in Najaf ... but we have to check," Ayar told Reuters, referring a mainly Shi'ite southern province.

"If there is any result over 90 percent it is better to investigate those again. We are reviewing all the numbers, yes and no."

Partial results indicate a solid win for the constitution, despite fierce opposition among minority Sunni Arabs who fear it will seal their political eclipse in a country they once dominated under Saddam Hussein.

A two-thirds "No" vote in three of Iraq's 18 provinces would block the charter. But it appeared that only two provinces had voted "No" by that margin, making the chances of a veto remote.

Election officials say the final tally may be days away, but privately say the constitution probably passed in a referendum that was largely peaceful despite widespread fears of violence.


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