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Sunni Arabs Call Iraq Election Fraud
by Jason Straziuso
Entered into the database on Thursday, December 22nd, 2005 @ 16:25:32 MST


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Sunni Arabs alleged Tuesday that last week’s parliamentary elections were fraudulent, especially in Baghdad province, and they said if the irregularities are not corrected, new balloting must be held in Iraq’s largest electoral district.

An electoral commission official said more than 1,000 complaints from the Dec. 15 vote were being investigated, but only 20 were “very serious,” and were not expected to change the overall outcome. Final results will be announced in early January, he said, which would delay formation of a new government.

The United Iraqi Alliance _ a Shiite party _ won about 59 percent of the vote, according to returns from 89 percent of ballot boxes counted in Baghdad province. The Sunni Arab Iraqi Accordance Front received about 19 percent, and the Iraqi National List headed by Ayad Allawi, a secular-minded Shiite, got about 14 percent.

The general director of Iraq’s electoral commission, Adel al-Lami, told The Associated Press that officials didn’t announce the results of the remaining 11 percent because of complaints of irregularities. He refused to elaborate.

The Iraqi Accordance Front, a coalition of three major Sunni groups, rejected those results, warning of “grave repercussions on security and political stability” if the mistakes were not corrected.

Preliminary returns showed Iraqi voters divided along ethnic and religious lines with a commanding lead held by the religious Shiite coalition that dominates the current government, even though Sunnis turned out in large numbers after boycotting previous elections.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, noting those results, said Iraq needs a broad-based government that crosses that divide if it is to succeed and prosper.

“Sectarianism undercuts prospects for success and increases the risk for conflict among sects,” Khalilzad said.

If Sunnis are marginalized politically, it could cement divisions in Iraq and undermine U.S. hopes of a quick return to stability that would allow for the eventual withdrawal of American troops.

The Sunni officials registering complaints about the vote concentrated their protests on results from Baghdad province, the biggest electoral district.

“It was obvious to us that the forgery and the falsification have been taking place even before the opening of the ballot boxes,” the Iraqi Accordance Front said.

The group said it considered the results “a falsification of the will of the people.”

If no measures are taken, “we will demand that the elections be held again in Baghdad,” said Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the Sunni alliance. “If this demand is not met, then we will resort to other measures.”

A senior member of the United Iraqi Alliance, Jawad al-Maliki, responded that the Sunnis needed to respect the outcome. “Democracy means accepting the opinion of the majority,” he said.

Electoral commission official Farid Ayar said more than 1,000 complaints had been received, describing 20 as “very serious.” He would not elaborate on them, but added that although they could cancel the votes cast at a particular polling station, they were not expected to alter the overall election results significantly.

“We are studying all of them, we have two or three committees studying them. They are serious and they may change the results, but I don’t think the complaints will make a big change in the overall result,” he said.

There were more than 33,000 polling stations in Iraq 18 provinces. “If we have a serious violation at four polling stations, that is not many voters,” Ayar said.

Final results won’t be ready before early January, instead of late December, in order to investigate the complaints, he said.

Ayar, who pledged the commission “will present anything, we can’t hide anything from the people,” also said he saw nothing unusual in the Sunni allegations.

“We hear various statements by the political alliances, coalitions, parties and entities. This is a normal thing in all elections. There are those who win and those who don’t win,” he said. “We respect all opinions, but these are the numbers we have. We deal with numbers. We have no intention of forging anything or adding to anything.”

Khalilzad said there had been 20 serious complaints as of Monday that could affect the outcome.

Also lodging a protest was Ibrahim al-Janabi, an official of Allawi’s Iraqi National List.

“The elections commission is not independent. It is influenced by political parties and by the government,” he said. “We announce that we have reservations about the counting of the ballots in the commission. We demand that the process be transparent.”

Among Al-Dulaimi’s complaints were that some voting centers didn’t open or were too far away; that some voters were listed on the rolls twice and could have voted more than once; and that some who voted were not registered.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said that while the election was largely successful, some 25,000 residents of the northern town of Sulaimaniyah weren’t on voter rolls despite having cast ballots in previous polling.

The results for the 275-member parliament from 11 provinces showed the United Iraqi Alliance winning strong majorities in Baghdad and largely Shiite southern provinces.

Kurdish parties were overwhelmingly ahead in their three northern provinces, while results from one of the four predominantly Sunni provinces, Salahuddin, showed the Sunnis winning an overwhelming majority.

Early vote tallies suggested disappointing results for a secular party led by Allawi, a former prime minister and a U.S. favorite who hoped to bridge the often violent divide that has emerged between followers of rival branches of Islam.

Still, the United Iraqi Alliance was unlikely to win the two-thirds majority, or at least 184 seats, needed to avoid a coalition with other parties.

A senior official in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the main groups in the alliance, said it was expecting to get about 130 seats.

Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said a likely outcome of the political process will be a Kurdish-Shiite alliance with “token” Sunni participation.

In new reports of violence, a joint Iraqi-American patrol on the outskirts of Fallujah found the bodies of 14 people, some of whom were handcuffed and appeared to have been tortured, said Dr. Mohammed Hameed of the Fallujah hospital.

A driver for the Jordanian Embassy, was kidnapped while driving to work, Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit said.

Mahmoud Suleiman Saidat, a Jordanian, was “kidnapped by 15 masked men near his residence” in Baghdad’s southern neighborhood of Sadiya, al-Bakhit told parliament. He said Jordan was “seriously considering” moving its embassy in Baghdad to either Fallujah or to inside the Green Zone, the high security area inside Baghdad.