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Iraq: Evidence Of Voting Irregularities Clouds Mostly Successful Election

As the ballot count continues in Iraq, evidence of some voting irregularities is emerging. Still, Iraqi and UN election officials say the elections went as smoothly as could be hoped for, given Iraq’s security situation.

Prague, 8 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Election officials say there was substantial sabotage of Iraq’s 30 January elections in the Mosul area that prevented thousands of people from voting.

Iraqi Election Commissioner Safwat Rashid told reporters yesterday that only 93 out of a planned 330 polling centers opened on election day in Ninevah Province, of which Mosul is the capital.

He also said that there were a number of polling stations where voting materials were looted by gunmen and that a number of people were not able to cast their votes.

The interference from insurgents in Ninevah -- a restive, mixed population province in north-central Iraq -- is the largest-scale irregularity to be reported so far.

A top election official promised in Baghdad yesterday that all election irregularities will be looked into and that a full public report will be forthcoming.

"The council of the [election] commission thoroughly examined all the shortcomings [in the elections]. It is now taking measures against each one of them separately. It will inform Iraqi people about the results of its investigations as soon as possible," al-Mohammadi said.

"The New York Times” daily reported today that election commission officials are preparing a report on than 200 claims of irregularities received to date.

Parties complaining of irregularities include some Turkoman and Christian groups that say ballot shortages or early poll closures prevented their full representation in some areas of northern Iraq.

They also include complaints by Iraqi interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir that “tens of thousands” of his potential supporters were unable to vote because of lack of ballots in Al-Basrah, Baghdad, and Al-Najaf.

Amid the complaints of irregularities, evidence continues to grow that the Sunni community largely stayed away from the polls and will be under-represented in the new National Assembly.

Partial returns released by the election commission yesterday show only 125,000 people voting in Salahuddin Province. The total population of the province is some 1.2 million people, a reported two-thirds of them Sunni.

So far, the strongest party to emerge from the nationwide count is the United Iraqi Alliance, endorsed by pre-eminent Shi’a cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

In second place is the united Kurdish list and, in third, the coalition of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

It is unclear when the vote count will be completed and election officials caution that the margins between the top three contenders could still change significantly.

Immediately after the poll, election officials said the count could be over within 10 days -- that is, by 9 February. However, there is no official deadline for announcing the final vote results.

As a more detailed picture of what happened on 30 January emerges, Iraqi and UN election officials continue to say the elections went as smoothly as could be hoped for, given Iraq’s shaky security situation.

UN envoy to Iraq Ashraf Qazi said on 6 February he considers the poll “unexpectedly successful” because enough Iraqis had participated to create new possibilities for political dialogue in the country.

“People have visually witnessed the crowds coming out and the enthusiasm with which they participated and actually braved the dangers that confronted them. I think that has registered with people not only outside [the country] but also with Iraqis of all persuasions, even those who had their own reasons for not participating [in the poll]. I think, to that extent it has probably brought about an ambience in which there is a greater disposition to sit and talk to each other,” Qazi said.

In the wake of the elections, leading politicians are calling for finding ways to assure that all Iraq’s communities are included in the new order.

A spokesman for the Sunni mainstream Iraqi Islamic Party -- which stayed out of the poll -- said yesterday his party will consider proposals for ways to still participate in the political process.

Ayad Samarrai said “any proposal will be studied and’s not necessary to be in the government or the [National Assembly] to be part of the process.”

The National Assembly is to chose Iraq’s next interim government and oversee the writing of the permanent constitution.

Two more nationwide votes are scheduled for later this year.

Iraq is to hold a public referendum by 15 October on whether to adopt the new constitution.

If the constitution is approved, Iraqis are also to vote by 15 December for a new national government.

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