Iraq's landmark constitution was adopted by a majority of voters during the country's Oct. 15 referendum, as Sunni Arab opponents failed to muster enough support to defeat it, election officials said Tuesday. A prominent Sunni politician called the vote "a farce."
"Whatever the results of the referendum are ... it is a civilized step that aims to put Iraq on the path of true democracy," Farid Ayar, an official with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said before reading the final results at a news conference. He said the commission's 10-day audit of the vote had turned up no significant fraud, and a U.N. official congratulated the commission for its work, according to the AP.
But Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni Arab member of the committee that wrote the constitution, called the referendum "a farce" and accused government forces of stealing ballot boxes to reduce the percentage of "no" votes in several mostly Sunni-Arab provinces.
"The people were shocked to find out that their vote is worthless because of the major fraud that takes place in Iraq," he said on Al-Arabiya TV.
The constitution is considered another major step in Iraq's democratic reforms, clearing the way for the election of a new, full-term Iraqi parliament on Dec. 15. Such steps are important in any decision about the future withdrawal of U.S.-led forces from Iraq.
However, some fear the constitution's victory could enrage many Sunni Arabs and increase their support of, or even participation in, attacks by the country's Sunni-led insurgent groups.
The militants, meanwhile, kept up their deadly attacks on Tuesday.
In the worst one, a suicide car bomb exploded near a regional government ministry in a predominantly Kurdish province of Sulaimaniyah, killing at least 12 people, said Dr. Shirko Abdullaha at a local hospital.
The U.S. military also announced that two Marines were killed by a roadside bomb during fighting with insurgents on Friday near Amiriyah, a village in western Baghdad. That raised to 1,999 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The blast in Sulaimaniyah occurred on the outskirts of the city right outside the ministry that houses Kurdish forces known as peshmerga, said Lt. Col. Taha Redha, a peshmerga official.
It was one of two suicide attacks by insurgents on Tuesday in the generally peaceful province, which is 260 kilometers (160 miles) northeast of Baghdad.
About 45 minutes earlier, a suicide car bomb rammed into a seven-car convoy carrying Mullah Bakhtiyar, a senior Kurdish official in President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, said police Col. Najim al-Din Qader. The blast in Sulaimaniyah city wounded two of the convoy's guards and damaged two of its cars, Qader said. Bakhtiyar was not hurt.
Sulaimaniyah, the city and province have the same name, is where the PUK party is based, and it is considered one of the most peaceful areas of Iraq.
In Baghdad, insurgents used four bombs and seven shootings Tuesday to kill six people, a boy, two Iraqi soldiers and three policemen, and wounded 45 Iraqis, most of them policemen, officials said.