Shiite bloc leads in early Iraqi returns

Allawi's group trailing

insurgents resurface after lull in attacks

February 04, 2005|By Matthew McAllester | Matthew McAllester,NEWSDAY

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Preliminary results from Sunday's parliamentary elections in Iraq show early success for the large Shiite Muslim bloc that was expected to do well, Iraqi election officials announced yesterday.

They pointed out that the results represented only a small portion of the total and that it will be about 10 days before final results are known. Five of the six provinces reporting partial results have a predominantly Shiite population, so the considerable support for the main Shiite list of candidates is no surprise.

That list, known as the United Iraqi Alliance, was tacitly endorsed by Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and includes secular and religious Shiite candidates, further complicating any political tea-leaf reading.

But one trend appears to be the list's popularity compared to that of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Even in the province of Baghdad, where voters come from all of Iraq's religious, ideological and ethnic backgrounds, the Shiite list led Allawi's by a 3-1 ratio.

Even before the first reports, Western observers were cautioning against reading too much into the incremental results that Iraq's election commission have promised to continue releasing. "Iraq is learning democratic practices," a Western diplomat said Wednesday. "One of them is wait until votes are counted until declaring victory."

The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Americans learned that lesson during the 2000 presidential campaign.

As if to remind Iraqis, Americans and the rest of the world that Sunday's election did not mean a sudden end to the Sunni Arab-led insurgency, rebels re-emerged yesterday after three days of relative inaction. There were at least four car bombings in various parts of the country and a renewal of roadside bombs and shootings against Americans and Iraqis.

The day's deadliest attack came when insurgents stopped a minibus south of the city of Kirkuk and ordered army recruits off the vehicle. The insurgents shot 12 of them in the head and allowed two to go free, said Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin.

The two who were spared were sent away with a message to other potential recruits: Such attacks are what will happen if you join Iraq's U.S.-backed security forces.

In another attack, gunmen ambushed a 50-strong Iraqi police convoy south of Baghdad, leaving two dead, 14 wounded and at least 16 missing.

Two U.S. Marines were killed in the troubled Anbar province to the west of Baghdad and at least a dozen Iraqi civilians died during the attacks yesterday.

In a satellite video news conference from Baghdad, Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naquib said yesterday that U.S. and Iraqi security forces are getting closer to capturing or killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the militant mastermind in Iraq, and they missed him by "one hour maybe" as recently as two weeks ago.

While the violence flared yesterday, the election commission's workers continued counting. The province reporting the most complete results was Samawah, where 70 percent of the votes were in.

There, the United Iraqi Alliance was outpacing Allawi's coalition by more than a 4-1 ratio. In Nassiriyah, reporting 65 percent, the differential was more than 7-1.

Overall, 1.6 million votes had been counted, with 1.1 million going to the Shiite alliance and Allawi coming in a distant second with 360,500.

The one settled matter was the overseas voting from eight countries where polling was held.

The United Iraqi Alliance again did well, although it won only 44 percent of the vote compared with its current tally of 61.5 percent in Baghdad's reporting polling stations.

On paper, the ascendancy of the Shiite coalition may sound alarm bells to those Iraqis and Americans who do not want an Islamic government - a two-thirds majority in the new national assembly would mean the Shiites could operate almost without restraint - but loose alliances within the coalition could mean that, in the end, the bloc will not hold together.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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