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Iraq's Kurdish Opposition Allege Poll Violations


An electoral worker in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah carries a sealed ballot box containing votes cast by servicemen and others ahead of election day on July 25.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Kurdish opposition political groups have complained of widespread violations in Kurdistan elections, but Iraq's election commission and the ruling authorities have said voting was largely sound.

Preliminary results will be announced on July 27, Iraq's electoral commission has said, but the result is not expected to alter radically the political landscape in the largely autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq's north.

"In the afternoon a campaign of violations began on the orders of the officials on the ground of the party in authority in all towns," said the Reform and Services opposition party in a statement late on July 25.

Complaints included allowing some voters to cast ballots without identification, blocking polling stations to opposition observers, and campaigning after the deadline.

The region's ruling parties -- the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), led by Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, and the Democratic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani -- ran jointly against 23 alliances of smaller parties.

Barzani, a former guerrilla leader, looks certain to defeat five rivals and retain his iron grip on power.

The Change list, headed by independent candidate Noshirwan Mustafa, said the authorities had executed a "premeditated plan to change the results for its own benefit."

Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission said it would investigate officially submitted complaints of election violations, but told reporters late on July 25 that the vote had been largely violation-free.

Jabbar Yawar, a senior member of the KDP, dismissed complaints of election irregularities. "We reject this, if there were violations, then they can submit an official complaint," he said.

Turnout for the elections was relatively high, at 78.5 percent across Kurdistan, the electoral commission said.

During campaigning, Kurdish leaders made hard-line statements on claims to territories they contest with Baghdad's Arab-led government, an easy vote-winner among Iraq's Kurds.

Critics accuse the Kurdistan Regional Government of widespread corruption, abuses by security forces, media intimidation and fostering an atmosphere that stifles dissent.