Protesters Challenge Results of Iraqi Vote

Thousands of people take to the streets of Baghdad in protest against the preliminary results of Iraq's parliamentary elections. Sunnis and secular Shiites are calling for a unity government in Iraq amid charges of election fraud.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Farai Chideya, sitting in for Alex Chadwick and Madeleine Brand.

Coming up on the program, one year after the tsunami devastated 12 Indian Ocean countries, the challenges of putting an early warning system in place. But first...

(Soundbite of protest)

CHIDEYA: More than 10,000 people marched through Baghdad today in support of a government that will unite Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites. The results from the December 15th parliamentary elections won't be certified until next month. There had been a sharp drop in violence in the week following the election. But since this past Sunday, more than 40 people have died in shootings and bombings across Iraq. NPR's Baghdad correspondent Jamie Tarabay joins me now.

Jamie, welcome back to DAY TO DAY.

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Hi. How are you?

CHIDEYA: I'm quite well, and let us know who was protesting and what was the tone of this march.

TARABAY: Well, the tone of the march today was significantly different to the ones that we've been seeing, especially in the last week. Today more than 10,000 Iraqis of different ethnic groups--Sunni, Shia, Turkoman--had all gathered in the capital to demonstrate. And instead of protesting against other groups, as they were last week, they were actually joining together, and their common enemy this time seemed to be the Election Commission. They were all protesting for a review of some of the votes. They accused the commission of fraud, and they were really calling for a national unity government. I think they're all a bit tired of the divisions that have been, you know, stressed lately and they're just calling for everyone to come together.

CHIDEYA: Is the international community calling this election tainted?

TARABAY: No, it's not at all; the complete opposite. The UN has come out and said the election on the 15th of December met international standards. To a large degree, it was free and fair. I mean, obviously, there were complaints from within Iraq, but the UN has said that it won't review the results. There were international monitors, and they all think it was fine. And the results have to come through, and everyone has to accept them.

CHIDEYA: There are significant ethnic and regional divisions in Iraq, and I understand there are plenty of back-room negotiations taking place between these rival factions. Could the election results not accurately reflect what the parliament will actually look like?

TARABAY: Well, there's definitely some sort of dialogue happening at the moment. In terms of the actual makeup of the parliament, there is something that's quite important to stress here; that there are 275 parliamentary seats, but 45 of those are compensatory. They weren't included in the national election. The 45 seats will go to people who won in the overseas voting, as well as to those members of the minority communities who didn't do too well. So there are guarantees in the makeup of the parliament that are meant to ensure that everyone is represented.

CHIDEYA: So today in Karbala, which is a Shiite holy city, municipal workers found a mass grave. What can you tell us about that?

TARABAY: Well, we're not actually sure what has happened in Karbala. What we do know is that these municipal workers found some bodies, and the police there have claimed that they belong to mass graves, and they've even said that they've tried to date it. They said that there are bodies from 1991 when Saddam put down the Shiite uprising in the south after the first Gulf War. But this hasn't been verified. Some of the bodies have been removed for testing.

What we do know is that, you know, human rights groups have said that, you know, 300,000 people have been buried in mass graves, mainly Shia and Kurds, who were, you know, put down during Saddam's reign. And he's, as you know, on trial at the moment for ordering the massacre of 150 Shiite villagers in the village of Dujail, and once that case is wrapped up, he's expected to stand on trial for other similar crimes.

CHIDEYA: We will certainly check in with you about that. NPR's Baghdad correspondent Jamie Tarabay, thanks very much.

TARABAY: Thank you.

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