BAGHDAD, Iraq – The two strongest opponents of Iraq’s proposed new constitution said this week that they wouldn’t campaign against it aggressively, making it likely that voters will approve the constitution in an Oct. 15 referendum.

Passage would be a victory for the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, but it’s unclear whether the document will produce a stable Iraqi government with broad public support or further alienate the country’s Sunni Muslim Arab minority.

Rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s representatives said that while he’s not thrilled about the constitution, he likely wouldn’t encourage his followers to oppose it.

Hazem al-Araji, a senior al-Sadr aide, said that al-Sadr has formed a committee to review the document and that once he hears from them he’ll make a final decision.

“But for now, his opinion is neutral,” al-Araji said.

The largest Sunni political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said that although it has encouraged its supporters to vote down the document, its efforts are focused on the December election for a new National Assembly.

“There are powers that will make sure this bad constitution passes,” said Ala’a al-Maki, a party spokesman. “We are focusing more on ensuring the Sunnis participate in the next election.”

Both al-Sadr’s supporters and members of the Islamic Party said they’re concerned that federalist provisions in the constitution could divide the country along sectarian lines.

Al-Sadr’s and the Islamic Party’s positions – coupled with last week’s call from associates of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country’s most powerful Shiite Muslim cleric, to pass the document – virtually assure that the constitution will pass. A word from the widely revered al-Sistani will sway much of the Shiite populace, which makes up 60 percent of Iraqis.

Hazim Abdel Hamid al-Nuaimi, a professor of politics at al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, said the Islamic Party is focusing on the December elections because it wants to influence how the constitution is implemented.

“They don’t think this constitution is the end of the political process,” al-Nuaimi said.

The best hope is that Sunnis will participate in elections even though they oppose the constitution, and that broadening participation in a legitimate political process will undercut the insurgency, which draws its support from the Sunni community.

Still, some worry that the constitution could further fuel sectarianism. Some Sunni members of the constitutional committee said the proposed document serves Shiites and Kurds more than the Sunnis.

For the referendum to fail, two-thirds of the voters in three of Iraq’s 19 provinces must reject it.


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