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Iraq votes for the Constitution and for its future

Chaldean Catholic figures, who have contacts with Kurds, Sunnites and Schi'ites, tell AsiaNews about Iraqi hopes and fears on the eve of the referendum.  

Rome (AsiaNews) ­ Iraq closed its borders today in view of tomorrow's referendum on the Constitution. Barricades have been set up around polling stations in Baghdad and other large cities; many Iraqi families have stocked up on provisions to last for four days of public holidays called by the government with the aim of keeping people indoors. On the eve of the vote, fear and anxiety are prevalent from north to south, but then, so are courage and high hopes.

From diverse zones of Iraq, AsiaNews has gathered feedback from the population, especially Christians, about the lead-up to tomorrow's ballot.

From Amadiyah, in Kurdistan, the Chaldean bishop Rabban al-Qas, said: "Here, the Kurds are prepared to vote positively, not to lose this opportunity which will not present itself again to them. It is important to vote 'yes' for the Constitution. The agreement of the Islamic Party (the largest Sunnite party) with the government has given a boost to Kurds and Schi'ites. It's a pity that some who call themselves Christians have ranged themselves against, especially the Assyrian party.

"I personally have urged Christians to go and vote: this Constitution is certainly not perfect, especially for Christians and Kurds, however it is the best thing we have so far. I hope Kurdistan will be able to contribute to putting there what is now missing, for example, greater guarantees for Christians.

"The rejection of the Constitution would mean the dissolution of parliament and of the government and it would give more rope to our enemies, who want the country's destruction. Voting 'yes' in the referendum, on the other hand, means terrorism will not have the possibility to bring the country under its feet.

"Iraq will never be pacified without the political participation of the Sunnites. I guess that in the coming election, Kurds, Sunnites and the party of Iyad Allawi will take power and they will distance Jaafari (the current Schi'ite premier, ed. note), who is powerless in the face of the chaos prevailing in his government.

"At this time, there is the need to take things as they come and to seek to support those who offer guarantees to make Iraq a free, democratic state, far from Islamic, religious influence. We hope to see this, one day, but education is necessary. I can say that in Kurdistan, youth are well prepared to understand the positive importance of the referendum and elderly people look at the event as the advent of Kurdistan."

The climate among the population in Mosul is practically the opposite. Mosul is the third city of Iraq and it has a Sunnite majority. Here, AsiaNews interviewed the parish priest of the church of the Holy Spirit, the young Chaldean priest,

Ragheed Ganni. "Here, the curfew and ban on circulation of cars was imposed already on 12 October. Mosul is one big pedestrian island: scooters are not allowed, nor are cars. The security situation is worse compared to the January election and I don't know how many people will have the courage to go out of their homes to vote. The agreement of the government with the Islamic Party to back the Constitution has not reassured people, who are still afraid. After news of the agreement, other reports circulated ­ much more widely ­ in Mosul, that other Sunnite groups have disassociated themselves, declaring that the Islamic Party does not represent them and therefore calling for a boycott. For weeks, there have been manifestations in the streets, people in public posts and clerics in mosques are urging people to vote 'no'.

"In recent weeks, Mosul lived through tragic experiences: chaos reigns everywhere. People who have always tried to live their lives as normally as possible, who are used to bombs and shootings, have now stopped going to work. In the eastern part of Mosul ­ controlled by Americans and with a Kurdish and Schi'ite majority ­ the rebels targeted neighbourhoods of industrial activities. After days of shooting, it was decided to stop activities because of the high risk.

"The text of the Constitution never reached Mosul and anyhow people do not have the time or the peace to think about it: the main problem is survival. In my parish alone, three men were kidnapped in a month. Now they have been released but all the community had to contribute to paying the ransom of thousands of dollars. Often people die in even more vain circumstances. Four days ago, an Orthodox, a very old man, was killed by American fire 'by mistake'. During Ramadan, starting from 5 or 6pm, the city empties. All Muslims go home to eat and break their fast. The man went out at this time and he was heading for the bridge which links the two parts of the city. American soldiers started to fire because they were afraid he may be a kamikaze and they killed him. We do not feel protected by anyone."

In the south, dominated by a Schi'ite majority, the situation is peaceful and a high turnout is foreseen. Mgr Djibrail Kassab, Chaldean archbishop of Bassora confirmed this: "The situation is normal and serene and people will go to vote in large numbers. There is no fear: rather one may speak of concern. Security is strict, copies of the Constitution have been sent to nearly all families but I don't know how many have read it. Anyhow, expectations are high: many hope that tomorrow's vote may bring greater stability to the country and lead Iraq down the road to normalization."



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