Rice: Referendum 'Likely' Passed

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) said Sunday that Iraqi voters have likely approved a constitution.

"There's a belief that it has probably passed," the top U.S. diplomat told reporters Sunday.

"We'll see, but that's the general assessment that it has probably passed."

Rice said her information came from "people on the ground who are trying to do the numbers, trying to look at where the votes are coming from and so forth." She stressed, however, that she does not know the outcome for certain.

Millions of Iraqis voted Saturday on a charter that is a crucial milestone for establishing a legitimate democratic government in the majority-Arab nation where a U.S.-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein (search) more that two years ago.

Election officials counted paper ballots across Iraq on Sunday to determine whether a surprisingly large turnout by Sunni (search) Arabs in the country's constitutional referendum had produced enough "no" votes to defeat the historic document.

Rice said it will not be a disaster if the constitution fails.

"I think we can't keep moving the bar for the Iraqis," she said.

Under the country's temporary government rules, "Iraqis had a process ... that told them, 'write a constitution and then have a referendum,"' and they have done so, Rice said. "It's not a setback for the Iraqis if they exercise that right one way or another, it is a process that is alive and well."

The United States is hoping the constitution, if approved, will build confidence in the new government among minority Sunni Arabs and tame the insurgency. Eventually, political stability will enable the 150,000 U.S. troops to begin to withdraw.

If the constitution fails, a new constitution must be drafted by a new parliament, to be elected in December. If it passes, a new parliament will also be elected and a new government selected -- the first permanent, fully constitutional government in Iraq since Saddam's ouster.