Global Policy Forum

Iraq Polls See Large Turnout,


Daily Star - Lebanon
December 17, 2005

More than two-thirds of Iraq's electorate voted in a landmark election, estimates said Friday, spawning hope the next government will end the bloodshed, but rebels and U.S. commanders said the insurgency was far from over. In a sign that some militants will fight on regardless of Thursday's parliamentary poll, three mortar rounds landed near the Interior Ministry in Baghdad. Police said no one was hurt.

Election officials counted and recounted at least 10 million ballots as Iraqis celebrated an election in which many rebellious Sunni Arabs participated for the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein. "The number of those who took part in the ballot should be between 10 and 11 million voters, according to our first estimates," said electoral official Farid Ayyar. Eleven million voters would put turnout at just over 70 percent.

International monitors said the election had "generally" met international standards despite some procedural issues and hailed the organizers for meeting a "difficult challenge." Abroad, 320,000 expatriates voted in the election. Although final results are not expected for at least two weeks, a Western diplomat said a preliminary estimate could be available in four to five days.

"This period of elections is a period of truce, but that does not mean we will stop our military activities," said a man calling himself Abu Qatada, a member of the Islamic Army in Iraq, which includes former Baathists. In an earlier Internet statement, the Islamic Army said it didn't attack polling stations on Iraq's election day to avoid harming Sunni Arab voters.

U.S. commanders also said they had no illusions that peace would break out after the polls. "The insurgency is not over," Brigadier General Don Alston, chief of communications for U.S. forces in Iraq, told Reuters. "Zarqawi is still out there and levels of violence will increase," he said, referring Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

In rough estimates, Iraqis seem to have cast ballots along sectarian lines, with Shiite parties scoring well in strongholds in the south, the main Kurdish Alliance romping home in the north with strong turnout in Sunni regions. "For Iraq it is very important, as it will determine whether the country will slide further into civil war or perhaps can still be pulled back from the abyss," said Joost Hiltermann from the International Crisis Group.

Head of the electoral commission, Ezzedine Mohammadi, said the organization had received 178 complaints, which would be examined by electoral officials and independent lawyers. The United Iraqi Alliance was dominant in five southern Shiite provinces according to unofficial results obtained by AFP from electoral and party sources. In the western Al-Anbar region, a bastion of support for a Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency that has been hiked by Al-Qaeda, officials estimated turnout at 85-95 percent in the flashpoint town of Fallujah. Some polling stations even ran out of ballot papers, so strong was the turnout. The electoral commission also forecast turnout at 75-80 percent in the hotspot of Ramadi.

Among the more taxing challenges facing the government will be amending the new Constitution, pushed through Parliament and ratified by an October referendum despite fierce opposition from Sunni Arabs, who have been promised it will be reviewed. They complain the charter's emphasis on regional autonomy could give too much power and control of Iraq's vast oil reserves to Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south.

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