Iraq's Shi'ite coalition rejects calls for new ballot

The governing Shi’ite coalition has called on Iraqis to accept results showing the religious bloc leading in parliamentary elections and moved ahead with efforts to form a “national unity” government.

But as they reached out Saturday to Sunni Arabs and others, senior officials in the United Iraqi Alliance deepened the post-election turmoil by claiming that Islamic extremists and Saddam Hussein loyalists were at the forefront of those questioning the results.

At least one Sunni Arab leader said he was upset by the Shi’ite comments.

Violence in Iraq left at least nine people dead. Gunmen killed eight people around Baghdad, and a United States soldier died from wounds sustained in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in northern Iraq.

The soldier was assigned to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade and was wounded in an attack while on patrol near the town of Hawijah, the military said.

Hostage

Meanwhile, militants released a video of a Jordanian hostage and gave that country three days to cut ties with the Baghdad government and free a female would-be suicide bomber whose explosives belt failed to go off during November 9 attacks that killed 60 people in Amman.

Al-Arabiya satellite channel, which broadcast parts of the video, did not specify if the militants threatened to kill the hostage, Mahmoud Suleiman Saidat, if the deadline was not met.

Jordan’s government rejected the demands.

“Jordan will not succumb to any blackmail or pressure, whatever the source is,” Nasser Judeh, a Jordanian government spokesperson, told The Associated Press.

Saidat, a Jordanian embassy driver, was kidnapped on Tuesday. The video had a sign identifying the kidnappers as the Hawk Brigades, a previously unknown group.

Baghdad’s tiny Christian community celebrated a sombre Christmas Eve in Baghdad, with a few dozen Catholics holding Mass in the early afternoon to avoid travelling after dark—one of the most dangerous times in the Iraqi capital.
An 11pm curfew also bans all traffic.

The alliance, headed by the cleric Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, said preliminary results showing it with a clear lead in the December 15 elections were not the result of fraud or intimidation. It charged that many violations took place in Sunni Arab areas, and claimed that many of its opponents conspired with insurgents to alter results.

“There will be no going back and no new elections,” Jawad al-Maliki, a senior Alliance official, said at a news conference. “The results must be accepted and the will of the people must be respected.”

He added that the alliance had been expecting to win more seats.

“The opponents have made it clear through their statements and warnings that they stand alongside the terrorists.”

He was referring to statements by senior Sunni Arab politicians, including Adnan al-Dulaimi, the head of the main Sunni Arab coalition known as the Iraqi Accordance Front, who openly thanked some insurgent groups for not attacking polling stations, and to reports that masked militants were guarding some of them.

Forming a government

The alliance’s harsh comments demonstrated the difficulty that Iraqi parties will face in forming a government after final election results are released in early January.

The officials added that the alliance has begun talks with other groups about the possibility of forming a “national unity government”. But they ruled out having anyone other than a Shi’ite member of their religious bloc become Iraq’s new prime minister.

“The door is open for dialogue with our brothers and partners because we believe that Iraq cannot stand up without its main components,” al-Maliki said.

Many people outside the alliance allege that last week’s elections were unfair to Sunni Arabs and secular Shi’ite groups.

Sunni Arab and secular Shi’ite factions are demanding that an international body review the fraud complaints, warning that they may boycott the new legislature. The United Nations has rejected an outside review.

About 1 500 complaints have been lodged about the elections, including at least 35 the Iraqi election commission said could be serious enough to change the results in certain areas.

But Adel al-Lami, general director of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said an initial review of the complaints showed “they don’t significantly affect the results of the vote”.

The protesting groups have demanded the disbandment of the commission, accusing it of covering up ballot stuffing and fraud.

The commission also said it will carry out a court decision to remove 90 former members of Saddam’s outlawed Ba’ath party from the tickets of political parties and coalitions that participated in the elections.

It did not name the 90 or say if any were likely to be elected when final results are released.—Sapa-AP

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