Sunnis cry foul over Iraq vote

By Mariam Karouny, Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD - Iraq's rebellious Sunni Arab minority cried foul today over results of last week's election, angry at signs Shi'ite Islamists will remain the dominant force.

Warnings of fresh violence and of a Sunni Arab boycott of the new parliament soured the honeymoon atmosphere that followed Thursday's vote, when an informal ceasefire by guerrillas keen for a role in politics helped promote a big turnout across Iraq.

The Electoral Commission, where one official was taken to hospital after a heated dispute with colleagues, dismissed many of the complaints as pressure from losers; there were problems, but they were not serious enough to affect the results greatly.

A Jordanian embassy driver was kidnapped by gunmen at his Baghdad home, the latest of many foreigners to be abducted.

There was no immediate report of demands but other Arab diplomatic staff have been snatched this year by Iraq's al Qaeda militants seeking to isolate Baghdad's Shi'ite-led government.

Provisional, partial results released on Monday gave the ruling Shi'ite Alliance 59 per cent of the vote in Baghdad, by far the biggest of Iraq's 18 provinces.

The Alliance and its Kurdish allies won overwhelming victories in their respective southern and northern heartlands. About half the provinces had reported results.

Stunned by their defeats in Baghdad, where Sunnis and secular-minded voters appear more numerous than in other areas, the main Sunni Arab bloc called for a rerun of the vote there.

The secular grouping led by Shi'ite former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi denounced the count as a fraud and accused individual election officials of partisanship.

Sunni Arab politician Hussein al-Falluji, a leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front which came a distant second in Baghdad with 19 per cent, gave a veiled warning that disappointment could prompt Sunni Arab rebels to return to violence.

Arguing that the Front should have been credited with twice as many seats in the city, he told Reuters: "We will not accept this. We will go to the streets and call for demonstrations.

"We might also boycott the new parliament."

Falluji added: "The insurgents have had an informal truce for five days to give us a chance to vote ... but I think what is going on now will impact on security ... very quickly."

A Sunni boycott of January's vote for an interim assembly had deprived that body of much of its legitimacy. It forced US diplomats to step in to broker deals to appease unrepresented Sunnis in the hope of staunching rebel attacks on US troops.

Washington, which says the election was broadly fair despite infringements on all sides, hailed the vote as a breakthrough, by bringing the country together in a new, full-term legislature but acknowledges sectarian and ethnic hatreds still run deep.

"We demand a rerun of the election in Baghdad," said Adnan al-Dulaimi, another Iraqi Accordance Front leader.

But Electoral Commission chief Hussein Hindawi said: "So far there are no objective grounds to order a rerun in any province ... No one is satisfied with the results but those who won are less critical than others of course."

"Their position is rather political," he said of the Sunni Arab complaints. "If they have proof of fraud then they should send a letter to the commission and we will reply to them. But I'm sure that they will also be dissatisfied with our reply."

Hindawi played down the incident in which one of his six fellow Electoral Commissioners, Izzedine Mohamedi, was rushed to hospital after an argument with a colleague on Monday.

A source at the Commission said Mohamedi had a mild heart attack: "He was only hospitalised because of stress," Hindawi said. "We have a stressful job."

Accounts of disputes among the Commissioners have been common during three Iraqi elections this year and they are regularly accused of taking partisan and sectarian positions.

Jordanian embassy driver Mahmoud Saedat was seized by gunmen in three cars outside his home in the early morning, police and Jordan's state news agency said.

Several Arab diplomats and embassy workers have been kidnapped and killed in recent months by Islamist militants, hampering already frosty relations between Iraq's U.S.-backed Shi'ite-led government and Sunni-dominated fellow Arab states.

Egypt's envoy and two Algerian diplomats were killed in July after being abducted by al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The group said last month it had killed two Moroccan embassy staff who had also been abducted.

(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Waleed Ibrahim)

- REUTERS

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