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Allawi calls for unity after Iraqi vote
Updated: 2005-02-01 08:40

Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi urged Iraqis Monday to unite behind democracy in the wake of the country's historic elections, but al-Qaida's arm in Iraq vowed to press ahead with its "holy war" despite its failure to stop the voting by millions of Iraqis.

Partial results could be released as early as Tuesday, though final results from the hand counting of ballots could take up to 10 days, election officials said. U.S. soldiers stood guard and election workers cheered as trucks loaded with the first batch of ballots from the provinces rolled into Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone for the next phase of the count.

U.S. soldiers stand guard before escorting a convoy of ballots from a polling station in Jisr Diala on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Jan. 31, 2005. Iraqi and American forces escorted election officials with ballots and tally sheets to central collection points for tabulation of Sunday's landmark election. [AP]

Despite the lack of official totals from Sunday's election, officials in the main Shiite clergy-endorsed coalition claimed a large victory, which could raise tensions with Iraq's Sunni Muslims, who are thought to have largely sat out the vote.

Insurgents struck back Monday, killing three U.S. Marines in a roadside bombing south of Baghdad. Guerrillas also issued a video claiming to have shot down a British C-130 transport plane that crashed Sunday north of Baghdad. Ten 10 military personnel were missing and presumed dead — Britain's biggest single loss of life in the Iraq conflict.

The video, aired on al-Jazeera television, showed burning wreckage purported to be that of the C-130. Its authenticity could not be confirmed.

A string of suicide bombings and other attacks on election day, killed at least 44 people.

In his first public statement since the elections, Allawi called on Iraqis to join together to build a society shattered by decades of war, Saddam Hussein's tyranny, economic sanctions, military occupation and insurgency.

"The terrorists now know that they cannot win," Allawi said. "We are entering a new era of our history and all Iraqis — whether they voted or not — should stand side by side to build their future."

In southern Iraq, U.S. troops opened fire on detainees rioting Monday at the Camp Bucca prison facility, killing four people, the U.S. command said. The unrest broke out during a search for contraband and quickly spread. After warnings and non-lethal methods failed to halt it, "lethal force was used," the military said.

Local polling stations worked through the night to count ballots — by oil lamp at one Najaf site after power went off. By Monday afternoon, the count at all 5,200 stations nationwide was completed, and local centers were forwarding tally sheets and ballots to Baghdad, where vote totals will be compiled in computers and then announced, election officials said.

With turnout figures expected to take some time, concern was high that Sunnis — who make up the backbone of the insurgency — largely stayed out of the vote and may be alienated from the government that emerges.

The group al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, vowed to "continue the jihad (holy war) until the banner of (Islamic) unity flutters over Iraq."

"These elections and their results ... will increase our strength and intention to getting rid of injustice," the group said in a Web statement.

Allawi promised to work to ensure that "the voice of all Iraqis is present in the coming government."

The top candidate in the main Shiite coalition made a similar pledge. "We are still insisting to form a partnership government including all segments of the Iraqi people," Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim of the United Iraqi Alliance told Al-Arabiya television.

Although no partial results have been released, political parties were allowed to observe the counting at local stations. That led members of the Alliance, which was endorsed by Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to say they expect to win about 45 percent of the 275 Assembly seats up for grabs in the election.

Allawi's ticket was running second among the 111 candidate lists, and a Kurdish faction was third, those officials said.

The al-Sistani-endorsed list swept some southern cities, winning 90 percent of votes in Najaf and 80 percent in Basra, said local officials of the parties within the alliance. The claims could not be confirmed, but the Alliance had been expected to run strong in the southern Shiite heartland.

The National Assembly will name a new prime minister and Cabinet and draw up a permanent constitution to be put to a referendum. If it passes, elections for a new government will be held in December. Iraqis also selected provincial councils in the 18 provinces, and voters in the Kurdish-run north elected a new parliament.

A stable and legitimate Iraqi government could more effectively confront the insurgency and hasten the day when 150,000 American troops could go home.

But the prospect of a Shiite-dominated government raises concern among disaffected members of the Sunni minority, many of whom stayed away from the polls. Sunni Arabs number about 20 percent of the population but include many of the country's educational and technical elite.

Election officials claimed that turnout in heavily Sunni areas was better than some had expected, but they cited no numbers.

However, a U.S. diplomat, speaking to reporters in Baghdad on condition of anonymity, said "anecdotal evidence" indicated Sunni participation was "considerably lower" than that of other groups. Jordan's King Abdullah said in a CNN interview that Sunni turnout was "a lot lower than any of us hoped."

And a leading Sunni faction, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said the vote was not inclusive "because an important segment of the Sunni Muslim community didn't take part."

In Saddam's hometown, the predominantly Sunni city of Tikrit, history teacher Qais Youssif, 48, said no member of his family had voted because the elections "were held in the way that America and the occupation forces wanted."

"They want to marginalize the role of the Sunnis," he said. "They and the media talk about the Sunnis as a minority. I do not think they are a minority."

In the deadliest incident on election day, a Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules crashed en route from Baghdad to a major multinational force garrison in Balad, about 50 miles north of the capital. British officials said the cause of the crash was still being investigated, but guerrillas claimed to have shot it down with a missile.

The video aired by Al-Jazeera showed a finger pressing a button on a white box with wires attached to it, followed by images of two missiles flying up into the sky. The video did not show any impact with a plane but cut to footage of a plane's wreckage.

A spokesman for al-Jazeera said the tape was from a wing of the National Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which first emerged in July 2003. Earlier, a different group, Ansar al-Islam, claimed in a Web statement that its fighters shot down the flight with a missile but provided no evidence of the claim.

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