Iraq elections declared accomplished

A United Nations official admits that Iraq's recent parliamentary elections, which have given a strong lead to the Shiite religious bloc dominating the current government, were credible and that there was no justification in calls for a rerun.

The Shiite bloc held talks with Kurdish leaders about who should get the top 12 government jobs, as thousands of Sunni Arabs and secular Shiites protested what they say was a tainted vote. Two Sunni Arab groups and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqi National List have threatened a wave of protests and civil disobedience if fraud charges are not properly investigated.

In continuing political demonstrations across the country, more than 4,000 people rallied Wednesday in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, in favor of the major Sunni Arab party, the Iraqi Accordance Front. Demonstrators carried banners say "We refuse the election forgery."

The United Nations official, Craig Jenness, said at a news conference organized by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq that the U.N.-led international election assistance team found the elections to be credible and transparent. "Turnout was high and the day was largely peaceful, all communities participated."

His statement and the negotiations between Iraqi factions come at a critical time, with the United States placing high hopes on forming a broad-based coalition government that will provide the fledgling democracy with the stability and security it needs to allow American troops to begin returning home.

Iraqi officials said they had found some instances of fraud that were enough to cancel the results in that place, but not to hold a rerun. There were more than 1,500 complaints made about the elections, with about 50 of them considered serious enough to possibly result in the cancellation of results in some places.

"After studying all the complaints, and after the manual and electronic audit of samples of ballot boxes in the provinces, the electoral commission will announce within the next few days some decisions about canceling the results in stations where fraud was found," said Abdul Hussein Hendawi, an elections official.

He said fraud had been discovered in the provinces of Baghdad, Irbil, Ninevah, Kirkuk, Anbar and Diyala.

Jenness said the number of complaints was less than one in every 7,000 voters. About 70% of Iraq's 15 million voters took part in the elections. He added that the U.N. saw no reason to hold a new ballot.

The negotiations between the majority Shiites and Kurds were seen as part of an effort to force the main Sunni Arab organizations to come to the bargaining table. All groups have begun jockeying for position in the new government, and the protests are widely considered to be part of an attempt by Sunni Arabs to maximize their position.

Sunni Arabs formed the backbone of Saddam's government, and the Bush administration hopes to pull them away from the insurgency that has ravaged the country with daily bloodshed. The major Sunni Arab party alleges that the Dec. 15 elections were tainted by fraud, the AP reports.


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