Sunni Arab and secular Shiite factions demanded that an international body review complaints about voting fraud in last week's elections and threatened to boycott the new legislature. But the United Nations rejected the idea. "The U.N. is not going to conduct an independent review of the election results," U.N. associate spokesman Robert Sullivan said in New York. In violence Friday, gunmen attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint in Adhaim, 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of Baqouba, killing eight soldiers and wounding seventeen, an Iraqi army officer said on condition he not be identified for fear of reprisal attacks. Earlier this month 19 Iraqi soldiers were killed in an ambush in Adhaim. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Friday said President Bush had authorized new cuts in U.S. combat troops in Iraq, below the 138,000 level that prevailed for most of this year. Rumsfeld did not reveal the exact size of the troop cut, but Pentagon officials have said it could be as much as 7,000 combat troops.
Two army brigades that had been scheduled for combat tours will no longer deploy to Iraq. That will reduce the number of combat brigades in Iraq from 17 to 15. The demand Thursday for a review came two days after preliminary returns indicated the current governing group, the Shiite religiously oriented United Iraqi Alliance, was getting bigger than expected majorities in Baghdad, which has large numbers of Shiites and Sunnis.
Although final results are not expected until January, secular Shiites and Sunni Arabs were alarmed. The formerly dominant Sunni minority, in particular, fears being marginalized by the Shiite majority, which was oppressed during Saddam Hussein's reign. But the criticisms of the election could also be part of jockeying for position by both Sunnis and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, before negotiations begin on forming a new coalition government. No group is expected to win a majority of the legislature's 275 seats.
A representative for Allawi described the Dec. 15 vote as "fraudulent" and called the elected lawmakers "illegitimate." Thirty-five political groups that competed in the vote issued a statement calling for the disbandment of the electoral commission, known as the IECI, because of alleged problems with the balloting. The groups said the hundreds of complaints about fraud and intimidation of voters should be reviewed by international organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference or the Arab League, reports the AP. N.U.