Iraqi government won support of influential group Shiites

The Iraqi government's campaign to win support for the country's new constitution has won the critical backing of the most influential Shiite religious leader less than a month before a national referendum on the draft charter. The U.S. military on Friday reported the death of an American soldier in a roadside bombing west of Baghdad overnight. In the capital, gunmen killed two members the commission charged with ensuring former members of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime were banned from the Iraqi hierarchy, police said. Their deaths raised to 14 the number of commission members who have been killed since the 323-member Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification was created two years ago.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, meeting with aides Thursday in the holy city of Najaf, urged his followers to vote "yes" on the new basic law, according to two top officials in al-Sistani's organization, who refused to be identified because they are not authorized to speak for the reclusive cleric. He only issues statements through his office and makes no public appearances.

In January, millions of Shiites followed al-Sistani's call to vote in Iraq's first democratic elections in nearly half a century, and the ballot gave the Muslim sect a majority in the new parliament and government, the AP reminds.

If two-thirds of the voters in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces reject the constitution during the Oct. 15 national referendum, a new government must be formed and the process of writing the document would start again.

Most Sunni Muslim clerics and politicians have urged their followers to vote down the document, complaining that they did not have adequate representation in drafting it. Sunnis, the favored group under ousted President Saddam Hussein, are estimated to make up nearly 20 percent of the population and form the majority in four of the country's 18 provinces.

Two other popular leaders in Iraqis' majority Shiite sect, Muqtada al-Sadr and Ayatollah Mohammed al-Yaqoubi, also have opposed the constitution, and their stand, representing a potentially serious rift in the Shiite monolith, has bee reflected in the recent violence in the southern city of Basra. Violence their that erupted there after the detention of two British soldiers and their rescue after forces battered down prison walls with armored vehicles has produced an angry standoff between the British force and some members of the government.

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