On the eve of the balloting on their constitutional referendum, many Iraqis are having to endure the night that the lights went out in Baghdad.
Insurgents sabotaged power lines, knocking out electricity across Baghdad area Friday and plunging the capital into darkness on the eve of a landmark vote on a constitution aimed at defining democracy in a nation once ruled by Saddam Hussein.
For most of the day, Iraqis were hunkered down in their homes, with the streets of the Iraqi capital almost empty hours before a 10 p.m. curfew and the country sealed off from the outside world as borders and airports were closed for Saturday’s referendum.
Although there has been a lull so far this month in major insurgent attacks in Baghdad, the U.S. military has warned of an upsurge in violence to coincide with the vote.
Mahmoud al-Saaedi, an Electricity Ministry spokesman, said power lines were sabotaged between the northern towns of Kirkuk and Beiji leading to the Baghdad region. He did not specify how insurgents damaged the lines, but militants in the past have used bombs to hit infrastructure.
The lights went out soon after sundown, when Muslims break their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan, and power was still off more than two hours later.
Baghdad’s skyline was black except for pinpoints of light from private generators. The blackout appeared to have affected much of Baghdad province, an area of 2,250 square miles.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi army troops and policemen, meanwhile, formed security rings around the nation’s estimated 6,000 polling stations and set up checkpoints on highways and inside cities.
Tomorrow could be a very interesting news day, although it will be some time before results are known.
As to the referendum, there are two ways in which it could fail to pass.
Ratification of the constitution requires approval by a majority of voters nationwide.
However, if two-thirds of voters in any three of Iraq’s 18 provinces vote “no,” the constitution will be defeated and Sunni Arab opponents have a chance of swinging the ballot in four volatile provinces – Anbar, Nineveh, Salahuddin and Diyala.
Should the constitution be shot down, it would be a blow to the governmental time tables. It should not be considered devastating to our overall goals, though that is how I fully expect our media to trumpet the story.