Iraq Update: Questionable Vote Totals Audited

Iraqi election officials are auditing questionable vote totals in some majority Shiite and Kurdish provinces following last week's constitutional referendum. Those irregularities may spur further ethnic tension among Sunni Muslims as Saddam Hussein's trial for crimes against humanity begins.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

In Iraq, officials are investigating the vote count in last weekend's constitutional referendum. They're suspicious about the numbers in some areas where the referendum won 99 percent of the vote. That's in Shiite and Kurdish parts of the country. But there are also questions about provinces where Sunni Arabs are a majority. Here's NPR's Anne Garrels.

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

Iraq's Independent Election Commission said the results of Saturday's referendum would have to be delayed for a few more days for a full audit. The statement made no mention of the possibility of fraud, and commission member Farid Ayyar said lopsided turnouts were not unexpected in Iraq where historic sectarian divisions have been exacerbated by months of bloody communal violence.

But UN officials have called some of the numbers odd. Sunni politicians, many of whom are deeply suspicious of the Shiite majority and the Kurds, have cried foul. Concerned that ethnic tensions could be raised and the Sunnis further alienated, UN and Iraqi election officials say it's important to do a thorough investigation.

The start tomorrow of the first trial against Saddam Hussein risks inflaming ethnic tensions. Twenty-two months after he was dragged from an underground hiding place, Saddam and seven close associates will face charges of crimes against humanity in the deaths of more than 140 residents in the Shiite town of Dujail. This followed a botched assassination attempt on Saddam in 1982.

This is by no means the most savage of Saddam's alleged crimes, but the court has come under political pressure to move quickly, and the prosecution believes it can link Saddam personally with the mass murders there. While many Iraqis are eager for the moment when they see Saddam Hussein in the dock, Western human rights groups and legal experts have raised concerns about the the American involvement in organizing, funding and guiding the Iraqi tribunal and about the fairness and competence of the court, which has no experience with international standards. A Human Rights Watch report says a new Iraqi law includes no requirement to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. And the probably outcome, a death sentence, will be what the tribunal's harshest critics have described as victors' justice. And with only one day left, the prosecution and the tribunal are still struggling over key issues including witness protection, security for court officials and how and whether to broadcast the proceedings.

The five Iraqi judges overseeing tomorrow's trial are expected to quickly declare a recess as the court considers anticipated defense motions and other technicalities. It's not clear when the court will reconvene. Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad.

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