Audit of Vote, Weather May Delay Results

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By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 19, 2005

BAGHDAD, Oct. 19 -- Bad weather and possible ballot irregularities may delay the final tally in Iraq's constitutional referendum until the end of the week, the organization tabulating the vote said Tuesday.

Sandstorms have prevented some ballots from reaching Baghdad to be certified, and officials said they were conducting a random audit of results after more than half of Iraq's 18 provinces registered notably high percentages of either "yes" or "no" votes.

"We are going to recheck things to be absolutely sure," said Farid Ayar of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. "We should have results in a few days, maybe by Friday."

Preliminary results showed that Iraqis approved the draft constitution in voting Saturday. The document would have been rejected if two-thirds of voters in at least three provinces had cast ballots against it. But officials said the constitution apparently was rejected in only Anbar and Salahuddin provinces. Both are dominated by Sunni Arabs, who strongly opposed the charter.

Some Sunni leaders have called the results fraudulent because the percentages of approval were extremely high. No official indications of impropriety have emerged.

But the electoral commission said several provinces dominated by Kurds and Shiite Muslims reported more than 90 percent of voters coming out in favor of the constitution. For example, Najaf province, a Shiite stronghold south of Baghdad, reported Tuesday that 95 percent of voters there had backed the constitution, with only 3.5 percent voting "no" and 1.5 percent casting empty ballots. The electoral commission said a random audit was required to ensure the vote had met international standards.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military reported Tuesday that two Marines died in a firefight on Monday in the western city of Rutbah. Four alleged insurgents also died in the incident, a military statement said. A U.S. soldier was killed Tuesday by small arms fire in Mosul, the Army said.

On Wednesday, the military announced that one soldier died and two were wounded Tuesday in a roadside bomb attack near Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad.

In Ramadi, Tahleb Ebrahim Saoud, deputy governor of Anbar province, and one of his assistants were shot dead Tuesday by insurgents as they traveled by car to a meeting in the city's government headquarters, according to a statement from the U.S. Marines, who are responsible for the area.

Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, was the scene of air and ground attacks Sunday that killed 39 civilians, according to witnesses, health workers and family members of the victims. The military said that 70 suspected insurgents had been killed and that there had been no indications of civilian casualties.

In Washington, Bush administration officials said the U.S. military would review its information on the warplane and gunship attacks in Ramadi but had no plans to open a formal investigation into whether innocent civilians were inadvertently killed by American bombs.

"The military has review mechanisms in place, and when there are questions raised they look into those matters, and so that's something that, obviously, they will look into," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman said in response to reporters' questions that "we have no indications that the allegations of civilian casualties is accurate."

Staff writer Bradley Graham in Washington contributed to this report.


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