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Shiite group willing to talk with Sunnis
Updated: 2005-12-24 14:58

Iraq's leading Shiite religious bloc said Friday it is ready to discuss Sunni Arab participation in a coalition government, while thousands of Sunnis and some secular Shiites demonstrated in the streets claiming election fraud.

Reacting to growing protests over the Dec. 15 ballot for a new parliament, Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari urged Iraqis to have faith in the electoral process. He made the call after meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who announced the first of a possible series of U.S. combat troop reductions next year.

Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein's chief Iraqi lawyer, Khalil Dulaimia, claimed he saw evidence his client was beaten by American guards. The United States has strenuously denied mistreating him, and the Iraqi judge who investigated Saddam said that before the ousted leader made the charge in court this week he had always said "no" when asked if he had been abused.

A Sudanese diplomat and five other Sudanese were kidnapped as they left prayers at a mosque Friday, their foreign ministry said. It identified the diplomat as Abdel Moneam Mohammad Tom, second secretary at Sudan's mission in Baghdad.

About 20,000 people took part in a mass demonstration organized by 35 Sunni Arab and secular Shiite political parties after Friday prayers.

Many people outside the governing Shiite religious-oriented political bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, allege last week's elections were unfair to Sunni Arab and secular Shiite groups.

"We refuse the cheating and forgery in the elections," read one banner at the protest in southern Baghdad.

More than 2,000 people also demonstrated in Mosul, where some accused Iran of having a hand in election fraud. About 1,000 people demonstrated in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown.

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

The demand was issued after preliminary returns indicated the United Iraqi Alliance was getting bigger-than-expected majorities in Baghdad, which has large numbers of secular Shiites and Sunnis.
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