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Iraq: 99% of Dec 15 vote was valid
Updated: 2006-01-17 09:12

Iraq's electoral commission ruled Monday that more than 99 percent of the ballots from the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections are valid, opening the way for a new government to start coming together.

Final election results have been delayed by fraud complaints mainly lodged by the Sunni Arab minority, and groups looking for a political edge in dealing with the Shiite Muslim majority could still make further protests and hold up the naming of new leaders for two or three months.

A U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter crashed north of Baghdad, killing its two pilots. A bombing aimed at a convoy of American police advisers in the capital caused one death, while a car bomb killed five policemen and a 6-year-old in Muqdadiya, 60 miles north of Baghdad.

Iraq's electoral commission announced it was throwing out votes from 227 ballot boxes because of fraud, a tiny percentage — less than 1 percent — of the total vote that shouldn't affect the overall results.

"These boxes will not have an affect on the preliminary results that we issued last month," said Adel al-Lami, general director of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq.

Complaints by Sunni Arab and secular Shiite parties charging voting fraud and other irregularities have delayed announcement of final results, impeding negotiations on forming a new, broad-based coalition government.

Hussein Hendawi, an official with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, answers questions during a press conference on it's investigation of election complaints, Monday, Jan. 16, 2006, in the secure 'green zone' area of Baghdad, Iraq.
Hussein Hendawi, an official with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, answers questions during a press conference on it's investigation of election complaints, Monday, Jan. 16, 2006, in the secure 'green zone' area of Baghdad, Iraq.[AP]
Hussein Hendawi, an official on the election commission, said uncertified election results should be released in four to five days, which will give the various parties a good idea of how many seats they will get in the new 275-member parliament.

No party is expected to be able to govern on its own, requiring the factions to work together in forming a coalition Cabinet. Politicians predict that will take several months, just as it did after last year's election of an interim government.

Hendawi said election officials annulled some ballot boxes because fake ballots were used, while the votes of about 53 boxes were thrown out because too many votes were cast.

Iraqis voted at about 6,200 centers across the country Dec. 15, and there were an average of five ballot boxes at each. So 227 ballot boxes would be about two-thirds of 1 percent of the total vote, which was estimated at about 11 million ballots.

Hendawi said the commission studied 58 serious complaints, including 25 from Baghdad, which is Iraq's biggest election district with 59 seats. A total of 1,985 complaints were lodged, but most were considered minor transgressions that would warrant nothing more than a fine.

Fewer irregularities occurred than in the vote for an interim parliament last Jan. 30, Hendawi said.

The governing United Iraqi Alliance, a religious bloc based in the Shiite Muslim majority, held a strong lead in preliminary results announced after the election. But with an estimated 130 seats, based on those results, it wouldn't have enough to control parliament and will have to form a coalition with Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

Sunni Arab and secular Shiite parties claimed there was widespread fraud and intimidation of voters in the Dec. 15 election, and they demanded that voting be rerun in some provinces, including Baghdad.

They now have two days to appeal the election commission's handling of the complaints. Another two days would be needed to review any new complaints and a further day to examine any found to be legitimate, the commission said.

Given the vehemence of the previous complaints, it was nearly certain that more would be lodged. But there was no immediate reaction to the commission's ruling.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the main Sunni Arab political grouping, the Iraqi Accordance Front, said he wouldn't comment before Tuesday, after his group had a chance to review the findings.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, which is part of the Accordance Front, also said it would not comment until Tuesday.

The initial complaints and protests led the commission to invite an international team to assess the election. The monitors said Sunday that they expected to issue a final report Thursday.

The U.S. military did not say what caused the AH-64 to crash about 8:20 a.m. Monday north of the capital, killing the pilot and co-pilot.

The statement did not give a location for the crash, but AP Television News videotaped smoke billowing near Mishahda, 25 miles north of Baghdad, with helicopters circling nearby.

Two extremist groups — the Salahudin al-Ayoubi Brigade and the Mujahedeen Army — claimed in separate Internet statements that they had shot down an American helicopter. The claims could not be independently confirmed.

It was the latest in a string of fatal U.S. helicopter crashes in Iraq in recent weeks, fitting a wartime pattern of more frequent accidental and combat crashes during winter. An OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopter went down near Mosul on Friday, killing the two pilots.

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