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Iraq Transition

Power returning to Baghdad

IRAQI ISLAMIC PARTY DEAL

  • December 15: General elections

  • By April 15, 2006: National Assembly committee re-evaluates constitution

  • By June 15, 2006: Deadline to write new constitution

  • Followed by: New referendum on constitution
  • SPECIAL REPORT

    • Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
    • Interactive: Sectarian divide

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    Iraq
    Baghdad

    BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Power and water began returning to parts of Baghdad early Saturday morning hours after an election-eve insurgent attack plunged 70 percent of the city into darkness.

    The insurgents targeted the power grid, blowing up a tower along the main line between Baghdad and Musayyib, the nation's electricity minister told CNN. In addition to the two cities, Beiji also was affected, Muhsin Shalesh said.

    The outage also affected a water treatment station in Baghdad, leaving some neighborhoods without water.

    The attack came as Iraqi and U.S. forces increased security to high levels for Saturday's historic referendum, a milestone in the effort to establish a democracy in the post-Saddam Hussein era.

    Polls were to open at 7 a.m. (12 a.m. ET).

    Much more than a permanent government could be at stake in the vote, including peace between Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions and the future of the insurgency. (Full story) (Watch efforts to push Iraqis to the polls -- 2:30)

    A pre-election curfew was in effect Friday night in Baghdad, leaving the streets largely deserted during the blackout.

    The U.S. ambassador to Iraq told CNN on Friday that insurgents were likely plotting to disrupt the voting.

    "We anticipate the possibility of something significant and major to happen," Zalmay Khalilzad said. "The insurgents and the terrorists would like to do that. Our forces and the Iraqis are on guard trying to disrupt and prevent and deter those sorts of activities."

    Earlier in the day, insurgents attacked four offices of the Sunni Arab party that struck a compromise deal this week on the constitution with the Kurdish-Shiite coalition of the National Assembly. No casualties were reported in the attacks. (Watch video: Sunni group strikes deal in constitution compromise -- 2:11)

    A spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party said the attacks in Baghdad, Beiji and Tikrit would not deter the party's decision to support a "yes" vote on the constitution.

    "Those who could not convince people by words, they want to terrify them by these actions," said Ayad al-Samarraie, a party spokesman.

    "We will continue in the political process because our main goal is to serve Iraq and Iraqis and to take Iraq to stability instead of leading it to a civil war," he said.

    Also on Friday, seven people, including two children, were wounded in two separate roadside bomb attacks that apparently targeted a U.S. military convoy and an Iraqi police patrol.

    Deep rifts among factions

    The draft constitution is favored by Shiite Arab and Kurdish blocs, which prevail in the transitional government, but disliked by many Sunni Arabs, who dominated Saddam's government and now prevail in the violent insurgency.

    The process of drafting the document has been arduous, with the United States in the middle of the work, attempting to bridge gaps among all the country's factions over a range of issues.

    The law says that if the constitution passes, an election for a new, permanent government must be held by December 15.

    If the constitution is voted down, Iraq politically is back where it was earlier this year when more than 8 million Iraqis braved insurgent violence, went to the polls and voted for lawmakers.

    The law says Iraq must dissolve the assembly it elected January 30, and an elections for a new National Assembly must be held by December 15.

    The new assembly and a new transitional government must assume office by December 31, and the constitutional-writing process must start over again.

    Differences over federal system

    There have been many differences among the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds over the draft, but the main sticking point involves regional autonomy. The issue goes to the heart of the aspirations the three groups have for themselves and the country.

    The constitution sets down a federal system, which allows provinces to establish self-governing autonomous regions. This principle is favored by the Kurds and Shiites.

    The Kurds already have an autonomous region that was set up after the Persian Gulf War. The Shiite Arabs in recent months have favored autonomy in the south, where they are the predominant group.

    But many Sunni Arabs oppose such autonomy and support a stronger federal structure with no autonomous regions.

    The reason for the Sunni Arab antipathy is thought to be in part economic. The Kurdish and Shiite regions have oil riches, and Sunnis think autonomy would enable those groups to develop more wealth at the expense of the rest of the country.

    The Sunni Arabs account for about 20 percent of the population but are dwarfed in the political process by the Shiite Arabs and Kurds -- groups that had minority power in Saddam's regime.

    Important caveat

    Even though the voting process says the draft will be "ratified if a majority of the voters in Iraq approve," it carries a serious caveat:

    The constitution will not pass if two-thirds of the voters in three or more of the country's 18 provinces reject it, even if the majority of the voters across Iraq approve.

    This item was devised with the Kurdish aspirations for the north of the country in mind.

    Sunni and Shiite Arabs, who also predominate in provinces across the country, also could use the provision to thwart the process. There are about four Sunni provinces where that scenario is possible.

    CNN's Aneesh Raman, Octavia Nasr, Arwa Damon, Joe Sterling and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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