BAGHDAD, Oct 7: Iraqi authorities Friday were handing out millions of copies of the draft constitution ahead of next week's referendum on the post Saddam Hussein charter as US forces hunted rebels in the west of the country, report agencies.
Many households received their copy along with subsidised foodstuffs distributed in exchange for government-issued ration tickets, but the text was also being made available in public buildings, hospitals, universities and even prisons.
Up to five million copies of the text were to be printed with the help of the United Nations assistance mission ahead of the October 15 referendum.
"The printing is rolling slower than expected but we will be able to finish by October 14," a senior official in charge of the process said.
He predicted however that the target of five million copies would probably not be met "because of the extremely limited timeframe. We will probably reach 3.5 million" in Arabic and one million in Kurdish.
UN funding provided for an additional 400,000 copies in Syriac and Turkish, languages spoken by significant minorities of Iraqis.
"There's a huge demand. Iraqis want to read the constitution, whether they favour or oppose it," the official said, adding that some people were going straight to the printing shops to get their copies.
The late printing results from the fact parliament only okayed the final draft on September 18 because of last-minute amendments meant to assuage some opposition by the minority Sunni Arabs.
Iraq's President Jalal Talabani has acknowledged however that most Sunni Arabs, who account for some 20 percent of the population and who used to be dominant under Saddam Hussein, will vote to reject the constitution.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, for his part, expressed confidence the turnout would be high, despite the threat of violence.
According to an opinion poll sponsored by the US-based International Republican Institute, 85 percent of Iraqis intend to vote.
A top US general warned Wednesday that insurgents would likely increase their attacks in Baghdad ahead of the referendum in a bid to discredit both the government and the political process.
Rebel groups linked to Al-Qaeda have called for Iraqis to boycott the referendum on the draft.
Iraqi television channels, both state-controlled and private, are bombarding viewers with ads in a bid to bolster the vote.
Meanwhile, US forces announced they had killed at least 29 rebels in fighting in western Iraq between Wednesday night and Friday morning.