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AsiaNews – Kirkuk residents will overcome fears and go and vote next Saturday, but they will do so knowing very little about the constitution, said Mgr Louis Sako, Kirkuk’s Chaldean Bishop who spoke to AsiaNews on the eve of the referendum from a city whose people are still gripped by doubts but hopeful.

Oil-rich, contended by Kurds and Arabs, Kirkuk is still prey to insurgents who “threaten anyone who wants to vote”. In the city “everyone is scared, but I am certain that turnout will be pretty good,” Bishop Sako said.

Since the beginning of the week, US troops have arrived in great numbers, he noted. “Before you wouldn’t see any in the streets; now they move around the city in great numbers. They’ll guarantee security on Saturday and people seem reassured. They will overcome fears and go out and vote. I am certainly going to vote and so are the faithful in my diocese.”

For the prelate, the recent deal with the Sunnis has brought some hope. “The Islamic Party (main Sunni party that has recently called for a Yes vote) has many supporters here. Its decision is a positive sign and will encourage the population to stay united and express itself through the ballot box next Saturday,” he said, adding that the deal with the Sunnis “will weaken terrorism. It will delegitimise it. It will lead Iraq towards something better even if many Sunnis are still opposed [to the constitution] and are calling for a boycott of the referendum.”

Just yesterday the National Assembly endorsed the changes to the constitution without voting, improving its chances among Sunnis in the October 15 referendum.

“Unfortunately, Kirkuk did not get copies of the proposed constitution and so people had to rely on newspapers to form an opinion about the charter,” Bishop Sako said. Copies might be given out today or tomorrow, he added, “but it would be too late anyway”. Therefore, voting will take place “but with people not knowing much. Still the fact itself is very important. It will be a sign that people can start dreaming the Iraq of the future again”.

Despite all the difficulties, Bishop Sako believes that “there is hope for everyone in the country”. “This situation,” he said, “cannot last forever. It will come to an end sometime. What is positive is the fact that in the political process that started with the fall of Saddam Hussein, people got used to talking and comparing ideas. What is more, we are really fed up with terrorism”.

The prelate ended the interview by urging Iraqi Christians to “remain united so that in the future they can be useful partners with the government and be a bridge for dialogue and peace.”