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Kurds gain on Shiites, as new violence kills at least 27 in Iraq

LIZ SLY, Chicago Tribune


BAGHDAD, Feb. 07, 2005 - (KRT) - Fresh returns Monday from Iraq's election showed the Kurdish alliance eroding the lead of the Shiite religious parties expected to win the most votes, as insurgents unleashed a bloodbath in two cities that killed at least 27 people.

The latest results diluted the big lead tallied last week for a slate of Shiite candidates sponsored by the top Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But they still leave the United Iraqi Alliance in position to dominate the new National Assembly that will form the government and write Iraq's constitution.

In the most surprising result, the Shiite coalition won the leading share of the vote in the mainly Sunni province of Salahuddin, home to Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein.

In the first Sunni province from which votes have been tallied, the United Iraqi Alliance came in first, with 22 percent of the votes cast, followed by the Kurdish Alliance, with 15 percent, based on results from 80 percent of the polling stations.

Shiites and Kurds are in the minority in Salahuddin, and the result suggests Sunni voters largely stayed away from the polls, further raising concerns about the extent to which Iraq's minority Sunnis will be prepared to accept a National Assembly and the constitution it writes.

It is most unlikely that Arab Sunnis would vote for the Shiite coalition or the Kurdish Alliance. And the apparently low turnout in Salahuddin province - just 124,000 votes - also suggests few Sunnis cast ballots.

Partial results from two of the three Kurdish provinces give the Kurdish Alliance an overwhelming majority of Kurdish votes, as had been expected. With over 80 percent of the vote counted in Dahuk and Sulaymaniyah, the Kurdish Alliance took more than 90 percent. The Kurdish Alliance includes the two main Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

With 4.4 million votes now counted, the Shiite coalition has won slightly more than half and the Kurdish Alliance slightly less than a quarter, leaving the group headed by interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi trailing with 13 percent.

Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission said it expects a final result to be available later this week, but already the bargaining over positions in the new government is under way.

A two-thirds majority is needed for key appointments and for approval of the constitution, and officials say it is increasingly likely that the Kurdish and Shiite parties will team up to assign the top positions.

As the count continued, insurgents renewed their bloody assaults on Iraq's security forces. In the deadliest attack, a suicide car bombing outside a police station in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, killed at least 15 people, including the bomber, most of them civilians.

Outside a hospital in Mosul, a suicide bomber detonated what appeared to be a vest with explosives, killing 11 police officers on guard there, U.S. military officials said.

The group led by al-Qaida ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement posted on a militant Web site.

No election results have been reported for the Mosul area, and officials said they were investigating widespread reports of irregularities in Nineveh province, where Mosul is located. Iraq's election commission reported that gunmen stormed some polling centers and stole paper ballots, returning them later, neatly marked. Several other ballot boxes were not properly sealed.

At least 15,000 people were unable to vote in the mostly Christian village of Bartella, where election centers failed to open for security reasons, officials said. Christian parties have said as many as 35,000 Christian voters were denied the chance to vote because voting materials did not reach their villages.

Also Monday, news agencies reported that four Egyptian telecommunications engineers kidnapped Sunday were freed, apparently after U.S. forces raided the house where they were being held.

---

(Chicago Tribune special correspondent Nadeem Majeed in Baghdad and correspondent Mike Dorning in Mosul contributed to this report.)

---

ę 2005, Chicago Tribune.


:: Article nr. 9523 sent on 08-feb-2005 04:10 ECT

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Link: www.ledger-enquirer.com/mld/ledgerenquirer/news/world/10841550.htm



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