Iraq vote results are valid, U.N. says

Sunni leaders say fraud shaped outcome

groups renew calls for new parliamentary election


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A United Nations official announced publicly for the first time yesterday that the results of the Iraqi parliamentary election Dec. 15 appeared to be valid and said demands by some groups for a new vote were unjustified.

The announcement, made at a news conference in Baghdad, brought bitter denunciations from some Sunni Arab political leaders, who swore to continue pressing their claims that ballot-stuffing and other fraud had distorted the election results.

"The U.N. is of the view that these elections were transparent and credible," said the official, Craig Jenness, who led the agency's election coordination effort here. He added that although all complaints must be weighed thoroughly, "we at the U.N. see no justification in calls for a rerun of the elections."

Although it does not have the power to overturn results of the election, the United Nations figured prominently in organizing the vote and its public show of support bolstered the Iraqi authorities' position that the vote was legitimate.

Several Sunni parties, as well as some secular groups, have called for the authorities to hold a new election, but that demand now seems unlikely to be met. Abdul Hussein al-Hindawi, an electoral commission board member, read a statement at the news conference saying the commission plans to cancel ballots in some areas but that it had all but ruled out holding a new vote because it had not found evidence of widespread forgery.

Even as Iraqi authorities appeared to be closing the door on complaints of fraud, Sunni Arab parties continued to push for concessions. Demonstrations organized over the past week to protest the results of the election continued yesterday with a large crowd filling an area near the government building in Samarra, north of Baghdad, and protesters gathering in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad.

Dhafir al-Ani, the spokesman for the main Sunni alliance, the Iraqi Consensus Front, which has been vocal in its criticism of the results, said that his group had rejected the conclusion put forth by Jenness and that it would continue to ask for a new vote.

"Several international workers sitting inside the green zone are not able to evaluate the election matter," he said by telephone yesterday. "We still believe that huge fraud happened in the Iraqi election and it completely changed the results."

Jenness said the U.N. team that assisted the election had been made up of 50 international experts. The vote was also monitored by 120,000 observers, he said.

Hindawi said that the electoral commission would cancel forged ballots in polling stations in Baghdad; the northern cities of Erbil and Kirkuk; and the provinces of Anbar in the west, Nineveh in the north and Diyala in central Iraq. In addition, two teams of investigators are reviewing results in the southern cities of Babel and Basra. The results of the ballot reviews are expected to be announced within the next few days, he said.

Preliminary results, which gave a big lead to the ruling Shiite religious bloc, also indicated that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, a former Washington insider, will not be re-elected to the new 275-member parliament, his office said.

Before the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Chalabi, then living in exile, was a favorite of the U.S. Congress and Defense Department. A secular Shiite, he fell from grace after his claims that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction were discredited.

Political alliances

The election developments came as Shiite and Kurdish leaders met in northern Iraq to discuss forming a government that would include representatives from all of Iraq's religious and ethnic groups. Abdul Aziz Hakim, the head of the Shiite coalition that is expected to capture the largest share of votes, met with Masoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party, and said that he had held "preliminary consultations" on the formation of a government but that talks were still in the very early stages. He indicated that the Sunnis were not yet involved.

"We need to evaluate the previous alliance and study its weaknesses and strengths," Hakim said at a news conference with Barzani, the Associated Press reported from the city of Erbil in the Kurdish enclave. "Then we will try to include the others."

Prison revolt

In Baghdad yesterday, an inmate in a high-security prison in the Kadhimiya neighborhood grabbed an AK-47 from a guard during a routine morning outing, shot him dead and began freeing other prisoners, including a citizen of Saudi Arabia, officials said.

Iraqi soldiers eventually quelled the revolt, which began around 6 a.m., said Brig. Gen. Jaleel Khalaf. About 16 prisoners were involved in the revolt, according to a statement from the U.S. military, which took part in bringing the revolt under control. Iraqi and U.S. officials said that all of the prisoners had been accounted for by the end of the day.

The prison holds about 215 high-security inmates and is situated on an Iraqi army base. In all, nine people - four prisoners, an interpreter and four prison guards - were killed. One U.S. soldier and five prisoners were wounded, the military said.

The military also reported the death of a U.S. Marine, who was killed Monday by small-arms fire in Khalidiya in volatile Anbar province.

In Dhibai, a village about 40 miles north of Baghdad, gunmen killed two soldiers and wounded seven in an ambush on an Iraqi army patrol Tuesday, according to Reuters. Insurgents first struck the patrol with a roadside bomb, and then fired on the soldiers.

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