Protest, Violence Mark Days Before Iraqi Poll Results

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Tens of thousands of Sunnis and supporters of secular political parties have been protesting across Iraq after the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. Despite claims of fraud, international monitors say the polls were fair. Final results may be ready by the end of the week.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

In Baghdad today, at least nine people were killed in an attempted prison break. The US military says more than a dozen detainees in a maximum-security prison stormed an armory. One American soldier was injured when American troops came in and helped stop the fighting. Meanwhile, election workers continue to count ballots from the country's parliamentary election. As NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports from Baghdad, Iraq's Election Commission says it may have the final results by the end of this week.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Nearly every day since election day, the Election Commission has held a press conference, ostensibly to keep Iraqis updated on the progress of the count. But it's also used them to defend itself against allegations it helped the Shiite Alliance claim the lion's share of the votes. Today UN official Craig Jenness said the team of international experts and monitors say the election was fair and there's no need for a rerun.

Mr. CRAIG JENNESS (UN Official): The United Nations is of the view that these elections were transparent and credible. Turnout was high. The day was largely peaceful. All communities participated.

TARABAY: But not all communities are satisfied with the early results.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of crowd shouting)

TARABAY: Tens of thousands of Sunnis and supporters of secular slates have protested across Iraq in Baghdad, Mosul and other cities, upset with a vote count that has the two main Sunni political parties well behind the Shiite Alliance. They say they have proof of widespread election fraud, something the UN's Craig Jenness says simply isn't true.

Mr. JENNESS: The number of complaints filed is low, less than one for every 7,000 voters. However, as there are many more candidates than there are seats in parliament, that is natural that some candidates will not be fully satisfied with the results. However, in our view, all will have a strong voice in parliament. We hope that the elections will be the start of a new process of strength and unity in Iraq.

TARABAY: After being on the defensive since election day, the Iraqi Election Commission attacked its detractors today. Election official Hussein al-Hindawi defended his staff, some of whom he says were threatened or killed, and said the commission should be applauded for organizing three national votes in one year, something international observers say would be hard even for established democracies.

Mr. HUSSEIN AL-HINDAWI (Election Official): (Through Translator) The Iraqi Election Committee is under attack at a time when we were expecting praise for carrying out such a difficult election. What makes it more painful is these attacks are coming from Iraqi political parties. We want them to stand by us during this difficult time.

TARABAY: And there are complaints from those who may not get into the 275-member parliament at all. Former Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi and his group scored so badly, he may not even get one seat. He may, however, get one of the compensatory seats set aside for Iraqis voting overseas. The main political parties are not waiting for the Election Commission to issue its final results. They're already meeting and talking. The leaders of the Shiite Alliance traveled north to meet with the Kurdish leaders today, most likely to begin talks about joining together as they did in the previous provisional government. The problem with that and the concern among observers is that if the Shiites and the Kurds are able to secure a two-thirds majority in parliament, they won't need to cooperate with the Sunni groups.

(Soundbite of siren)

TARABAY: Leaving the Sunnis out of the next government could exacerbate the country's fragile security situation. Some Sunnis still threaten civil war, and any surge in violence may compel US troops to stay longer as Iraqi security forces, long the target of insurgents, struggle to control the country. Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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