October 19, 2005 in Nation/World

Iraqi referendum results delayed for audit

Mariam Fam Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Final results from Iraq’s landmark referendum on a new constitution will likely not be announced until Friday at the earliest because of delays getting counts to the capital and a wide-ranging audit of an unexpectedly high number of “yes” votes, election officials said.

The returns have raised questions over the possibility of irregularities in the balloting. With the delays, the outcome of the crucial referendum will remain up in the air possibly into next week. Meanwhile, insurgent attacks began to heat up again after being nearly silent on referendum day Saturday, when polling stations were heavily protected across the country.

A U.S. soldier was shot and killed in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, early Tuesday, the military said. In fighting in western Iraq, two U.S. Marines and four militants were killed Monday near the town of Rutba, not far from the Jordanian border, the military said. At least 1,979 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Gunmen killed the deputy governor of Anbar province, Talib Ibrahim, spraying his car with automatic weapons fire in Ramadi and wounding two of his bodyguards, police said. Anbar, the vast western Sunni region, is the main battleground between insurgents and U.S.-Iraqi forces.

Militants killed at least nine Iraqis elsewhere Tuesday in shootings and a mortar attack, including an adviser to the industry minister, one of the country’s top Sunni Arab officials, police said.

The handcuffed and mutilated bodies of six Shiites were pulled out of a pond where they were dumped north of Baghdad, and three other bodies were discovered elsewhere in the capital.

Also Tuesday, an Internet statement released in the name of al-Qaida in Iraq denounced Arab League plans to stage a reconciliation conference between all Iraqi factions.

The statement, posted Tuesday on a Web site known as a clearinghouse for extremist material, said the “Arab League initiative is a new conspiracy to save their American master under the pretext of national reconciliation, maintaining Iraq’s unity and protecting the Sunnis against falling under Iranian influence.”

The Arab League plans to hold a reconciliation conference at its Cairo headquarters, but a date has not been set. League Secretary-General Amr Moussa is expected to travel to Iraq on Thursday, his first visit since Saddam’s ouster, to try to organize it.

The audit, announced by the Electoral Commission on Monday, will examine results that show an oddly high number of “yes” votes – apparently including in two crucial provinces that could determine the outcome of the vote, Ninevah and Diyala.

The election commission and United Nations officials supervising the counting have made no mention of fraud and have cautioned that the unexpected votes are not necessarily incorrect.

But Sunni Arab leaders who oppose the charter have claimed the vote was fixed in Ninevah and Diyala and elsewhere to swing them to a “yes” after initial results reported by provincial officials indicated the constitution had passed.

Both provinces are believed to have slight Sunni Arab majorities that likely voted “no” in large numbers, along with significant Shiite and Kurdish communities that largely cast “yes” ballots. But initial results from election officials in Ninevah and Diyala indicated about 70 percent of voters supported the charter and only 20 percent rejected.

Sunni opponents needed to win over either Diyala or Ninevah to veto the constitution. Sunnis had to get a two-thirds “no” vote in any three of Iraq’s 18 provinces to defeat the charter, and they appeared to have gotten it in Anbar and Salahuddin, both heavily Sunni.

After a sandstorm that had closed Baghdad’s airport cleared Tuesday, the first bags full of sheets of vote counts from Iraq’s provinces were flown into the capital for tabulation from Anbar, Karbala and Babil provinces. All of Baghdad’s vote counts have also reached the central counting center.

But the head of the Electoral Commission, Ezzeddin Mohammed, said material from 14 others were likely to be flown in today. The 250 workers at Baghdad’s central counting center will then take two days to go through them to produce a final count – meaning Friday.

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