Cheryl Seal
Sat Oct 15, 2005 17:21

Baghdad Sunni stronghold says firm "No" to charter

By Michael Georgy

Close to where Saddam Hussein was last seen in public as president, his Sunni Arab supporters went to polling stations on Saturday to vote "No" to a constitution many see as a U.S., or perhaps Iranian, plot.
Bitter emotions in the insurgent stronghold of Aadhamiya left few doubts that whoever leads Iraq after December elections has a long way to go to win over the minority Sunni sect once dominant under Saddam's rule.

Sunnis interviewed in other parts of Baghdad were divided over the constitution, some voting "Yes" and others "No".

But there were no mixed signals in the capital's Sunni heartland fiercely opposed to the charter drafted by Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders.

The mood in Aadhamiya, where Saddam was last seen waving to Iraqis outside the blue-domed Abu Hanifa mosque as Baghdad fell to invading U.S. forces in April 2003, contrasted sharply with other areas, even nearby Sunni districts.

"Of course I am voting 'No'," said Mohammed Hassan. "This document neglects the Sunnis and it just helps the Shi'ites. We want a united Iraq not one that is carved up into federal states."

Sunni Arabs loyal to Saddam and Muslim militants inspired by al Qaeda are waging a campaign of suicide bombings and shootings in a bid to topple the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

"NO, NO, NO"

The constitution has deepened frustrations among many Sunnis who worry that it will give Shi'ites and Kurds power and oil resources in regions where they dominate and leave Sunnis disadvantaged.

Many Sunnis also say Iraq's Shi'ite leaders are heavily influenced by Shi'ite Iran.

Although it was impossible to tell if any Sunni guerrillas went to the Aadhamiya ballot boxes to reject the charter, teenagers around the voting station had the same stern faces as the young men who fill the ranks of the insurgency.

"No, No, No," chanted one group of young men as they entered the polling station.

"This constitution was made by the Americans and Israelis and Iran and their friends in the Iraqi government," said a teenager as his friends nodded in agreement.

A man and his wife came out smiling and saying they had voted "Yes". But they turned out to be Shi'ites living in Aadhamiya, a sprawling district with mostly two-storey houses.

Few policemen were in sight as voters walked along narrow roads to vote in the Safina school, unlike other polling stations heavily guarded by Iraqi and U.S. forces backed by Bradley fighting vehicles.

Sunni insurgents in Aadhamiya have warned that Iraqis who work with Americans or the Iraqi security forces will be killed. Some people have been shot or beheaded and left on the side of the road with a sign with the word "spy" left on their chests.

Some voters said they knew nothing about the constitution but that did not stop them from rejecting it.

"I don't know anything about it. Nobody told us. But I said 'No'. After all, it was drawn up by the Americans," said Ahmed Abu Zahra.

As they left the polling station, two young men tried to outdo one another on how they rejected the charter.

"I said 'No' and 'No', said one. "The government asked us to say 'Yes' but I said 'No' twice," said his friend.

Main Page - Saturday, 10/15/05

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