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Samara Offers Gloomy Election Forecast

Women strike only note of optimism as referendum preparations get underway.
By Jasim al-Sab\'awi

Banners and leaflets hang on the buildings of this Sunni town, urging people to vote against the constitution.

Tension is building and security is tightening as the constitutional referendum approaches.

The town of Samara, 110 kilometres north of Baghdad, is part of the Tikrit region. It recently witnessed fierce confrontations between militants and coalition forces, but now the battle is a war of words over the constitution.

Iraqis will vote on the proposed charter in a nationwide ballot on October 15.

Ahead of the referendum, cars queued at checkpoints and concrete barriers lined the highways into Samara. Hundreds waited for hours to enter the town. The government ordered curfews and travel bans throughout Iraq from October 13-17.

Major Ibrahim Latif, Samara’s chief of police, said he had ordered tight security measures ahead of the poll.

"The police in Samara are completely ready,” he said. “Our department has put together a plan in collaboration with Iraqi National Guard and the multinational forces to protect polling stations from likely attacks by the militants.”

All the signs are that local residents will reject the constitution.

"The majority of people here follow the [Sunni] Association of Muslim Scholars and the Iraqi Islamic Party," said Dr Ali al-Samara'i, director of a government-run health centre in Samara.

"Through my involvement with people [here], I think 80 per cent to 90 percent will vote no."

The town’s majority Sunni Arab population fear the constitution will grant Shia and Kurds too much autonomy and control over oil reserves in their respective regions, leaving Sunnis with little political or economic power.

The Arab identity of Iraq is also a highly sensitive issue, as there is no provision in the charter stating clearly that Iraq is a part of the Arab nation, one of many Sunni Arab demands.

Speaking for many here, Samir Naji al-Samara'i, a 42-year-old teacher, said, "Iraqi society is an Arab and Islamic society.”

Last-minute amendments emphasising Iraq’s connection to the Arab League and its unity appear to have had little effect.

Another problem is that few have read the proposed constitution because of delays in the distribution of copies, caused by eleventh-hour negotiations and changes.

Some in Samara, like in many other cities and towns in Iraq, said they had reservations about voting on a document about which they knew little.

Harith Jamil, 32, a pharmacist, believes constitution is a vague issue for many Iraqis.

"So far the constitution is unclear,” said Jamil.

“The media haven’t explained it in a detailed and comprehensive manner that helps people decide whether they should vote yes or no.”

Without having read a copy of the constitution, he went on, “how should I should know on what to vote?”

The only note of optimism was struck by some Samara women who said they would back the constitution, despite probable threats from insurgents.

Sawsan Abdul-Hadi, a 37-year-old teacher, said," We will participate in the voting even if there are threats. We want a constitution that protects us and our rights.

"This [opportunity] won't happen again. We have to clearly determine our future with all courage and honesty."

Sumaya Awad, a 34-year-old housewife and mother, echoed these sentiments.

"I will vote yes for the constitution. I hope it will guarantee the rights of Iraqi women, who suffered for a long time," she said.

Jasim al-Sab'awi is an IWPR trainee journalist in Tikrit.

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