The task will be complicated by the issue of fraud. While election day violence was minimal, complaints of voting fraud and other irregularities circulated from early on election day. Still, so far, fewer complaints have surfaced than in January’s election to Iraq’s interim parliament.
While the spokesman of the Iraqi Independent Election Commission (IECI), Farid Ayar, acknowledged that violations had occurred, he downplayed their significance, saying some violations were to be expected.
Prior to the election, the head of the IECI, Adil al-Lami, said 140 complaints about allegedly illegal campaign activities had been filed. These will be investigated, he promised.
The complaints voiced by political parties and the IECI on election day were similar to complaints filed following the January elections: some polling centers did not open and voters complained of having to travel long distances to cast their ballots; a number of polling centers were short of ballots and ballot boxes; some voters found their names were missing from electoral lists and some were turned away at polling centers; and political parties and police were accused of intimidating voters to vote for specific parties in several towns.
Kurdish Leaders Concerned About Possible Violations
So far, the most serious election-day complaints have come from Kurdish leaders.
In the highly sensitive Kirkuk Governorate, which Kurds hope will ultimately be incorporated into the Kurdish autonomous region, hundreds of Kurds were reportedly turned away from polling centers after their names could not be found on voter lists.
Earlier this week, Kurdistan Regional Government President Mas'ud Barzani accused the IECI of plotting to steal some 200,000 votes in Kirkuk during the elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2005). Barzani said he would hold the IECI responsible for any problems facing Kurdish voters in Kirkuk on election day.
The IECI addressed the issue ahead of the 15 December vote, saying in an undated press release posted to its website (http://www.ieciraq.org) that it found "abnormal patterns" in voter registration in Kirkuk. The statement noted that its board of commissioners had rejected 81,297 voters’ registration applications, for reasons that included: failure to produce sufficient evidence their identity; use of the same document by more than one person; failure to sign registration forms; and identical signatures found on multiple application forms.
A Kurdish minister in Iraq’s transitional government, Minister of Municipalities and Public Works Nisreen Barwari, complained that Kurds in Baghdad and other Arab cities were prevented from voting, Kurdistan Satellite TV reported on 15 December.
Barwari said that Kurdish peshmerga fighters assigned to protect her were turned away from polling centers in Baghdad. She also claimed to have witnessed "intimidation" against Iraqi Kurds, adding that Kurds have been marginalized in the voting process. These violations were carried out "with the knowledge" of the IECI, she asserted.
In the northern city of Mosul, hundreds of Kurdish voters who voted successfully in the constitutional referendum in October found that their names had been removed from voter rolls; some illiterate voters claimed that election workers assigned to help them vote ignored their preferences and cast ballots for other parties.
Shi'ite Alliance Accused of Intimidating Voters, Election Workers
In the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah, western news agencies reported that Iraqi police had used loud speakers to urge voters to vote for the ruling United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), and election officials complained that the Alliance attempted to intimidate polling workers. Secular Shi'ite political candidates said they feared there had been fraud.
Similar incidents were reported in two cities to the south of Baghdad -- Al-Najaf and Al-Hillah -- and in the northern town of Tal Afar. Hatim Bachari, a campaign manager for the secular Iraqi National List in the southern city of Al-Basrah, told the Los Angeles Times that electoral commission employees hung banners for the United Iraqi Alliance inside voting centers.
In Karbala, 70 kilometers south of Baghdad, Al-Sharqiyah television reported that the governor was using local security services and government resources to promote the UIA list.
Voters in Baghdad, Al-Ramadi, and Al-Fallujah complained that their names were absent from voter rolls. Some said they had voted without problem in the constitutional referendum in October.
In some areas, it appears that the IECI underestimated the number of voters that would go to the polls, with the result that a shortage of ballots or ballot boxes (or both) was reported in many towns dominated by the minority Sunni Arabs, including Samarra, Al-Ramadi, Al-Fallujah, and Ba'qubah.
IECI spokesman Farid Ayar said on 16 December that the commission would not view a shortage of ballots as an election violation.
The IECI has said it is looking into complaints that votes were forged at some polling centers. Should those complaints be verified, the IECI would cancel the results of the polling station, he said.
The IECI signaled before the election that it would conduct audits of the integrity, transparency, and credibility of votes across the country. "Audit activities include taking physical stock of electoral materials, checking on the actual number of polling locations, checking of materials for signs of tampering, reviewing [the] counting of forms against reported figures, visually inspecting the cast ballots, [and] looking for unusual patterns of voting," al-Lami, the IECI’s head, said on 13 December.