Iraqi Parties Complain of Vote Irregularities

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 18, 2005

BAGHDAD, Dec. 17 -- As the United States portrayed Thursday's Iraqi elections as a resounding success, political parties here Saturday complained of violations ranging from dead men voting to murder in the streets.

The Iraqi electoral commission said it had received more than 200 complaints in advance of a Sunday deadline for filing grievances. A commission spokesman said many are "exaggerated," but political parties from all corners maintained that violence and fraud made the outcome suspect.

"We have documented violations, threats and breaches," Mehdi Hafedh, an official of the secular party of former prime minister Ayad Allawi, said at a news conference. At almost the same time, the coalition of Shiite religious parties that is vying to retain its majority in parliament warned that it "would not accept" results it deems fraudulent.

U.S. officials speaking from Washington declared the elections clean and fair, and in Iraq, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said in a statement that "all reports indicate that Iraqis from all communities and regions turned out in large numbers with only limited reports of violence and irregularities."

The electoral commission also fielded a large number of complaints after parliamentary elections last January but ultimately ruled that none of the violations was sufficient to have affected the outcome. Teams will evaluate these complaints on a similar standard, said Hussein Hindawi, a spokesman for the commission.

"These complaints need to be documented," he said. "Every complaint will need a separate investigation. We will not ignore any of them."

Wael Abdul Latif, a candidate on Allawi's list in the southern city of Basra, said that in one of the city's polling places, "there were ballots in the names of a man and his son. It turned out both were dead." In another section of Basra, "one man voted in seven centers," he said.

A statement from the main Shiite slate, the United Iraqi Alliance, said the party had filed 50 complaints of alleged violations around the country.

Sunni Arab politicians were generally pleased with the turnout of members of their minority, which largely boycotted January's elections. Adnan Dulaimi, head of one of the parties in the main Sunni coalition, said, "The election process succeeded." But he too urged an investigation of violations.

The same note was struck by Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, who met Saturday with Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari. Sadr, whose militia has twice fought U.S. forces in southern Iraq, had reluctantly agreed not to oppose the elections and warned Saturday that the results could be altered by "fraud and manipulation." Jafari called the vote a "sweeping victory for the Iraqi people."

Saad Arkij, head of an ethnic Turkmen slate in the north, complained that members of his minority and Arabs were barred from voting in Kirkuk, a northern city claimed by Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds. He blamed the Kurds. "Even policemen, when they went to the headquarters to vote, were told the ballots were all gone," he said. "It was unbelievable."

"We did not cheat," insisted Jalal Jawhar Aziz, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a leading Kurdish party.

Hindawi, the election commission official, said the nationwide tabulation of ballots would be completed "in the range of 10 days, a few more or less. Less, I hope."

The ban on vehicle traffic imposed for the elections was lifted throughout Iraq on Saturday, and work resumed. But the country enjoyed a day of relative quiet from the explosions, killings and kidnappings that preceded the elections. The Associated Press reported that gunmen in Baghdad fatally shot a policeman, a former Iraqi air force officer and a Shiite sheik, and another policeman was killed in Kirkuk when someone opened fire on a squad car.

Special correspondents Yasmin Mousa in Amman, Omar Fekeiki, Naseer Nouri and K.I. Ibrahim in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.

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