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Early Numbers Show Iraqis Adopting Constitution

Millions of Iraqis, as many as two-thirds of those registered, turned out Saturday to vote on the charter that had the backing of Shiites and Kurds, who together make up about 80 percent of Iraq’s population.

Sunni Arabs, who feared the constitution solidified Shiite and Kurdish autonomy, apparently were not able to muster enough support for their efforts to veto the document, reported the Associated Press.

A foreign election observer who wished to remain anonymous confirmed the apparent outcome to the AP and said the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission would announce official results possibly on Wednesday.

The commission did say Monday, however, that it will audit the results because the numbers of votes from most provinces “were unusually high according to the international standards.”

The commission plans to take random samples from some ballot boxes to recheck the results.

Two-thirds of voters in at least three of Iraq’s 18 provinces have to reject the constitution for it to fail. If the charter is approved, Iraqis will head to the polls again by Dec. 15 for parliamentary elections.

The new administration would be Iraq’s first permanent government since Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003.

Sunni Arabs have been promised they can propose constitutional amendments in the first four months of the new parliament.

“The constitution is a sign of civilization,” said Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari after casting his vote. “This constitution has come after heavy sacrifices. It is a new birth.”

President Bush said Sunday at the White House, “This is a very positive day for the Iraqis as well for world peace,” Bloomberg news reported.

Meanwhile, as the votes were being tallied, U.S. warplanes and helicopters bombed two villages near the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killing an estimated 70 insurgents, the military said Monday, though witnesses said at least 39 of those killed were civilians, the AP reported.

On referendum day, a roadside bomb killed five U.S. soldiers in a vehicle on the outskirts of Ramadi, a stronghold of Sunni insurgents.

On Sunday, about two dozen Iraqis gathered around the wreckage and were hit by U.S. F-15 warplanes, which killed about 20 people, the military and witnesses said, according to the AP.

The military said in a statement that the crowd was setting up another roadside bomb, but witnesses said the crowd had gathered to look at the wreckage and take pieces of the debris.

In a nearby village, a group of gunmen opened fire on a Cobra attack helicopter, which returned fire and killed about 10 people, the military said. Some of the men ran into a house, where gunmen were seen unloading weapons, when an F/A-18 warplane hit the building with a bomb, killing 40 insurgents, the military reported.

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