More than 10,000 people backing Sunni Arab and secular Shiite politicians marched through Baghdad on Tuesday in support of a national unity government. Attacks on security forces continued, with four Iraqi police and two bystanders killed early Tuesday. Violence increased across Iraq after a lull following the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, with at least two dozen people, including a U.S. soldier, killed in shootings and bombings Monday mostly targeting the Shiite-dominated security services.
Officials blamed the surge in violence on insurgent efforts to deepen the political turmoil surrounding the contested vote. Preliminary figures, including some returns released Monday from ballots cast early by expatriate Iraqis and some voters inside Iraq, have given a big lead to the religious Shiite bloc that controls the current interim government.
The violence came as three opposition groups threatened a wave of protests and civil disobedience if fraud charges are not properly investigated. The warning came from the secular Iraqi National List, headed by former Shiite Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, and two Sunni Arab groups.
More than 10,000 marchers, some carrying photos of Allawi, demonstrated in Baghdad in favor of a national unity government that would give more power to Sunni Arabs and secular Shiites. Marches chanted "No Sunnis, no Shiites, yes for national unity."
Clashes erupted between gunmen and Iraqi police in Baghdad, and two police and two bystanders were killed, Capt. Firas Keti said. Five people were also wounded. South of Baghdad, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol killed two officers and wounded two, police said.
The U.S. military on Tuesday said two U.S. pilots died in a helicopter accident in western Baghdad Monday night. The accident was under investigation; the military said no hostile fire was involved. Iraq's Electoral Commission said Monday that final results for the 275-seat parliament could be released in about a week.
Sunni Arab and secular Shiite factions are demanding that an international body review more than 1,500 complaints, warning they may boycott the new legislature. They also want new elections in some provinces, including Baghdad. The United Nations has rejected an outside review.
"We will resort to peaceful options, including protests, civil disobedience and a boycott of the political process until our demands are met," Hassan Zaidan al-Lahaibi, of the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, said in neighboring Jordan, where representatives of the groups have met in recent days.
Among the complaints are 35 that the election commission considers serious enough to change some local results. But, Farid Ayar, a commission official, said: "I don't think there is a reason to cancel the entire elections."
He also said preliminary results from early votes by soldiers, hospital patients and prisoners and overseas Iraqis showed a coalition of Kurdish parties and the main Shiite religious bloc each taking about a third. Those nearly 500,000 votes were not expected to alter overall results significantly.
Preliminary results previously released gave the United Iraqi Alliance, the religious Shiite coalition dominating the current government, a big lead, but one unlikely to allow it to govern without forming a coalition with other groups.
Bahaa al-Araji, a member of the Shiite alliance, said the group was preparing to negotiate with other political blocs and had already met with the Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party. Al-Araji also said likely candidates for prime minister were current Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who heads the Islamic Dawa party, and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who belongs to the other main Shiite party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Every time there has been a defining event in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, there has been a period of calm. They included the June 28, 2004, transfer of power from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, the Jan. 30 elections, and the Oct. 15 constitution referendum. The recent lull in violence ended Sunday, with the deaths of 18 people.
On Monday, a suicide car bomber slammed into a police patrol in the capital, leaving three dead, officials said, and a suicide motorcycle bomber rammed into a Shiite funeral ceremony, killing at least two, said Maj. Falah Mohamadawi of the Interior Ministry. A mortar then killed two people in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood. Four other car bombs killed at least two people and gunmen killed five officers at a police checkpoint 30 miles north of Baghdad, officials said. A U.S. soldier serving with Task Force Baghdad was killed when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle while on patrol in the capital, the military said, reports the AP. I.L.