Partial recount in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi officials said Wednesday they must recount votes from about 300 ballot boxes because of various discrepancies, delaying final results from the landmark national elections. Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of other ballots were declared invalid because of alleged tampering.
Post-election violence mounted, raising fears that the Jan. 30 balloting had done little to ease the country’s grave security crisis.
An American soldier was killed Wednesday and another wounded in an ambush north of the capital, the U.S. military said. Two other American soldiers died earlier in the week, the command said Wednesday.
Gunmen ambushed a convoy of Kurdish party officials in Baghdad, killing one and wounding four. And in the southern city of Basra, gunmen killed an Iraqi journalist working for a U.S.-funded TV station and his 3-year-old son as they left their home.
Officials had promised final results from the elections by today, the end of the Iraqi work week. On Wednesday, however, election commission spokesman Farid Ayar said the deadline would not be met because of the recount.
“We don’t know when this will finish,” he said. “This will lead to a little postponement in announcing the results.”
No partial tallies have been released since Monday in the contests for the 275-member National Assembly, 18 provincial councils and a regional parliament for the Kurdish self-governing region in the north.
The most recent figures showed a coalition of Kurdish parties in second place behind a Shiite-dominated ticket endorsed by Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. The ticket of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, was a distant third.
Allegations of voting irregularities, especially around the tense northern city of Mosul, have complicated the count. Some leading Sunni Arab and Christian politicians alleged that thousands of their supporters were denied the right to vote.
Election officials blamed the problems in the Mosul area on security, which prevented fewer than a third of the planned 330 polling centers from opening. Gunmen seized some ballot boxes, officials said.
The commission would not say how many ballots had been declared invalid and whether they had come from the Mosul area, which has a mostly Sunni Arab population. Many Sunnis are believed to have stayed home on election day, either because they feared insurgent reprisals or opposed a ballot as long as U.S. and other foreign troops were on Iraqi soil.
Commission official Adel al-Lami said the ballots in 40 boxes and 250 bags would not be counted because they appeared to have been stuffed inside them or, in some cases, improperly folded. Some of the boxes were not those approved by the commission, and others were improperly sealed, he said.
Before the election, commission officials estimated each box should contain about 500 ballots. It was unclear whether the bags contained roughly the same number of ballots.
Meanwhile, a Western legal expert said investigative judges were nearly ready to hand over lengthy dossiers of affidavits, witness statements and other documents to a five-judge panel that would run the trials for former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
The expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would not say which of Saddam’s 11 lieutenants were likely to face the Iraqi Special Tribunal first, and it was unclear when the dictator himself would stand trial.
Formal charges will not come until the investigating judges refer the cases to the trial chamber. The first dossiers were expected to be delivered to trial judges in several weeks, the legal expert said.
In December, investigative judges summoned Saddam’s cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as Chemical Ali for his role in poison gas attacks on Kurds, and former Defense Minister Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmad to appear at closed-door preliminary hearings.
The American soldier was killed Wednesday in an ambush near Balad, a major U.S. base about 50 miles north of Baghdad. Another U.S. soldier died Tuesday of a gunshot wound at the Balad base. A third was killed Sunday while on patrol in Mosul. More than 1,450 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003.
Police said they had no leads in the slaying of Abdul Hussein Khazal al-Basri, the correspondent for Al-Hurra TV station, and his young son. Al-Basri was also an official of the Islamic Dawa party, editor of a newspaper in Basra and head of the press office of the Basra City Council.
It was unclear if his affiliation with Al-Hurra was the motive for the slaying. The station, launched a year ago, was tailored for Arab audiences to compete with regional stations like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. President Bush said it was created to “cut through the hateful propaganda” broadcast in the Arab world.
In Rome, the newspaper that employs an Italian journalist held hostage in Iraq said Wednesday it has indications she is alive and that intelligence officials have established indirect contact with her kidnappers.
Giuliana Sgrena, a reporter for communist daily Il Manifesto, was abducted by gunmen Friday outside Baghdad University. Conflicting claims have appeared on Islamic militant Web sites: One said she had been killed, while another said she would be released soon.
Il Manifesto said an unspecified contact person saw Sgrena on Monday and Tuesday, reporting that she was well. The paper said the person could be used as a mediator in future communications with Sgrena’s kidnappers.
The contact is the result of work by Italy’s government and intelligence services, the newspaper said.
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