Iraqi Political Parties Threaten a Boycott

By Omar Fekeiki and Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 23, 2005

BAGHDAD, Dec. 23 -- A coalition of more than 60 political parties threatened Thursday to boycott Iraq's next parliament and warned of a surge in violence if new nationwide elections were not held.

The group, led by top Sunni Arab parties and the secular coalition led by former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, issued a statement denouncing last Thursday's elections as fraudulent and listing demands they said must be met before they would participate in the new legislature.

Otherwise, "we will not have any other choice but to boycott the political process and the coming parliament," said the statement, read aloud during a news conference attended by representatives from most of the parties involved. "This would lead to more struggle and bloody violence and threat to the Iraqi entity and its people."

Shiite Muslim religious parties that dominate the current government won by far the largest share of votes, according to preliminary results released this week by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. But more than 1,500 complaints have been made, including 39 deemed serious enough to affect results, election officials have said.

"How could we build an Iraq with a fraudulent process?" demanded Ayham Samarraie, who heads the Independent Iraqis Gathering, a Sunni party. Referring to the Shiite-led governing parties, he added, "This group wants to achieve power in Iraq through cheating."

The call for new elections emerged from two days of talks at Allawi's Baghdad office. The Tawafaq front, a coalition led by the Iraqi Islamic Party, widely considered the largest Sunni Arab party, and the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, led by Sunni hard-liner Saleh Mutlak, were among the groups involved in the talks. The parties that signed the statement appear to have won as many as 80 seats in the 275-seat National Assembly, according to an analysis of preliminary results.

"We were all surprised by the forgery and fraud in the election process," the statement said. "If these violations pass without a punishment, they will empower a phony democracy that's closer to a dictatorship."

The call for new elections came on a day in which British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made unannounced visits to Iraq. Rumsfeld told reporters that Iraqi politicians had a "big, big, enormous" task ahead in forming a government and that he hoped they would choose "people who are going to pull that country together toward the center and not pull it apart."

Early Friday, Rumsfeld said President Bush had authorized new cuts in the U.S. military force in Iraq to below 138,000 troops, the Associated Press reported. Addressing U.S. troops in Fallujah, Rumsfeld said the number of combat brigades would be reduced from 17 to 15.

A reduction had been widely expected to begin by early next year, though few specifics had been given until now. U.S. officials have said that American forces would be scaled back as Iraq's army improved.

Other demands issued by the newly formed coalition included dissolution of the electoral commission -- which fielded tens of thousands of monitors last week at polling sites -- because of its "responsibility for violations and fraud in the elections," the statement said. The coalition also asked for last week's results to be independently reviewed by international monitors such as the United Nations.

Shiite leaders largely dismissed the protest. "These are impossible demands to be fulfilled," said Saad Jawad Taqi, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which heads the governing coalition. "We have our complaints, too, but the difference is that we don't boycott and threaten to create a civil war."

Among the complaints received by the election commission were allegations of ballot-stuffing by poll workers and intimidation campaigns by militias associated with political parties. Western diplomats in Baghdad have categorized the elections as imperfect but largely fair.

"All sides that competed in the election have acknowledged there were problems during the campaign," a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "That's normal in a country where democracy is as new as it is in Iraq."

Iraq's Sunni Arabs, who are said to make up the bulk of the country's insurgency, have recently returned to the political process after boycotting January elections. Though only about 20 percent of the population, they ruled Iraq for decades and have struggled to come to terms with their diminished power since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Elsewhere in Iraq on Thursday, heavy clashes took place between Iraqi police and insurgents in the Dora neighborhood south of Baghdad. Five insurgents were killed, according to police Maj. Salim Muhammad. News agencies reported that four policemen were also killed.

Also, three Iraqi women were abducted from their car at gunpoint near an entrance to Baghdad's Green Zone, where they were employed, police said.

The U.S. military announced late Thursday that a soldier in Baghdad had been killed by an improvised bomb.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company