Victors In Iraqi Elections Include Suspected Murderers

For all the talk of unity and reconciliation, many Iraqi citizens are in for a shock when the new parliament swears in. Several of the winners, including top vote-getters, are believed to have committed mass murder during Iraq's sectarian civil war. One of the names bandied about as a compromise candidate for prime minister allegedly managed a secret prison where Sunnis died by electric drill. Another is a famous death squad leader. With the results finally crystallizing, it's not at all clear that this election will heal any of Iraq's wounds.

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Iraq's elections remain too close to call today, even with about 90 percent of the votes cast. What election watchers can discern are the distinct lines along which Shia and Sunnis voted. Despite hopes to the contrary, the new parliament could make it even more difficult to heal some of the wounds from Iraq's recent sectarian civil war. Some of the most demonstrably violent men in that war appear to have won seats in the election. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIL LAWRENCE: At Friday prayers yesterday in Baghdad's Sadr City slum, one man in a gray suit seemed to attract as much attention as the preachers speaking over the P.A.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: After a sermon that praised both armed and political resistance to the occupation of Iraq, many from the crowd of thousands rushed up to the front to congratulate Hakim al-Zamili, who appears to have won a resounding mandate as a member of parliament from Baghdad.

(Soundbite of crowd)

LAWRENCE: Though a celebrity here in Sadr City, many Iraqis call him a war criminal. Zamili was the deputy health minister during the ramp-up to Iraq's civil war, and he's accused of turning the ministry's guards into a Shia death squad, kidnapping and killing hundreds of Sunnis. Another ministry official who denounced Zamili disappeared and is presumed dead.

Mr. HAKIM AL-ZAMILI (Iraqi Parliamentarian): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: If I were really involved in those crimes, Zamili says, the courts would have convicted me.

Indeed, after being arrested and held over a year by the Americans, an Iraqi court acquitted Zamili after a brief trial.

Mr. ZAMILI: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Look at me, standing here with no bodyguards, among my people. You can see with your own eyes how much they love and support me, Zamili says.

The jail time seems only to have helped him and besides, he's not the only one heading for parliament who's alleged to have orchestrated sectarian killings. Another top vote-getter, Bayan Jabber, was minister of the interior in a period when hundreds of Sunnis were apparently tortured to death - some with electric drills - in a prison run by the ministry. Jabber declined numerous requests for an interview.

And there's plenty of blame to share on the Sunni side of the aisle as well, says Mithal al-Alusi, a secular Sunni politician.

Mr. MITHAL AL-ALUSI (Sunni Politician): They blew up my house. I did - lost my only two sons. But more than that, they attack our dreams. We've got a dream, dreaming from - having a democratic system in Iraq.

LAWRENCE: Sunni death squads tried to assassinate Alusi in 2005; his two sons, 29 and 24, died instead. Alusi has accused members of Iraq's Islamist Party of aiding in the attack, and he has deep suspicions about the motives of some of the candidates for the new parliament.

Mr. ALUSI: Some of the Iraqi politicians and some of the ministers, they joined this election to have just one point: having immunity as a government member.

LAWRENCE: Alusi says he doesn't think that Iraq's people are as deeply sectarian as their politicians, and he claims that Iraq's large parties have done the people a disservice by playing the sectarian card. But during this past election, there were at least choices: two major Shia slates, two slates geared towards Sunnis, and several competing for the Kurdish vote. That's according to Hiwa Othman, a Kurdish political analyst.

Mr. HIWA OTHMAN (Kurdish Political Analyst): It's part of the will of Iraqis whereby they decide, that's it. Enough is enough of the violence.

LAWRENCE: Othman says in this election, voters started to turn away from the protection of strongmen. But it may be better, for now, to keep the most violent actors inside the political process instead of pushing them out, he says.

Mr. OTHMAN: The fact that somebody who was responsible, who took part in the sectarian violence, is now part of the political process could be seen as a good indication. To have them in parliament could be better than having them in a ministry, in a security ministry or somewhere else.

LAWRENCE: Before any new government can work on reconciliation, Iraq's political parties and the still-armed factions must accept the election results. After sorting through hundreds of allegations of fraud, authorities should be able to certify those results by the end of the month.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.

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