Shiite bloc winning big in Iraq

Ruling slate leads in early returns; Sunni predicts `disaster’

Shiite bloc winning big in IraqChicago Tribune,  December 20, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s ruling Shiite religious bloc has taken an overwhelming lead in last week’s election and appears destined to retain a strong grip on the government, according to early vote results released Monday by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq.

Sunni leaders expressed deep disappointment in the partial results from 11 of the 18 provinces and charged that there had been voter intimidation by the United Iraqi Alliance, the leading Shiite religious bloc that has ties with Iran.

The early returns in the parliamentary election also appeared to dash the hopes of Ayad Allawi, the secular Shiite and American favorite who was hoping to play the spoiler.

The poor showing by Sunni candidates was unsettling news to U.S. and Iraqi officials who had hoped that Sunni political engagement would stem the insurgency and help unify a country that is increasingly separated by sectarian tensions.

Saleh Mutlaq, head of one of the two major Sunni lists, said he was resigned to the fact that the Sunnis would win far fewer seats than they wanted. Mutlaq accused the United Iraqi Alliance of sending Shiite militiamen to the polls to hover over voters and said imams at many Shiite mosques told the faithful "they would go to hell if they didn’t vote for the UIA."

"I want to send a message to the [Bush] administration that this election is going to lead to disaster in Iraq," said Mutlaq, who added that he would boycott the parliament unless Sunnis or secular Shiites were awarded some of the most important ministries, such as interior and defense. "I want the Americans to review this election and cancel it."

With most of the vote counted in 11 provinces, Sunnis were ahead only in Salahuddin, while the Shiite bloc was leading by huge margins in seven provinces. For example, in the Maysan province, the United Iraqi Alliance had 86.6 percent of the vote, while Allawi’s slate was the next closest with 4.3 percent.

In Baghdad province, where Allawi was depending on strong support, he managed to garner only 13 percent of the vote with about 89 percent of ballots counted. The United Iraqi Alliance won nearly 59 percent of the vote in Baghdad.

The Kurdish bloc, which joined with the Shiite alliance to form the government after elections for the interim government in January, was winning by huge margins in the three northern provinces controlled by the Kurds.

The early counting did not include results from Anbar, Nineveh or Diyala provinces, where the Sunni Arab slates are expected to do well. Sunnis, who had largely boycotted the January election, turned out to the polls in huge numbers Thursday.

Mutlaq and Adnan al-Dulaimi, the leader of the other major Sunni Arab list, said results in the yet-to-be-counted provinces will have little effect on stopping the Shiites from retaining control of the government. Al-Dulaimi called on the Shiite alliance to reach out to the minority groups and offer them meaningful posts in the government.

"If UIA is going to form the next government without uniting other blocs inside the government, this government is going to fail and will not be able to deal with any crisis that comes its way," al-Dulaimi said.

Hadi al-Amiri, secretary general of the Badr Organization, the Shiite militia group associated with the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said the early results were not unexpected. Al-Amiri said the Shiite list would look to make the government inclusive.

"We have no objections to uniting with the Kurds, Allawi or any other list," al-Amiri said. "We want to build a government of national dialogue and national consensus."

The elections commission reported that it had received 692 complaints of voting violations and was slowly sifting through them. So far, officials have concluded that 20 of the complaints are of a serious nature, such as intimidation of voters or stuffing of ballot boxes.

A commission official said preliminary results for the other seven provinces should be announced over the next few days. Official results, however, will not be announced until after the new year.

Last week’s election went off with few insurgent attacks, but there were a number of violent incidents Monday.
A Web site used by extremist groups showed a brief video of the purported execution of an American contractor who has been held hostage.

On a split screen, the video shows Ronald Schulz, a former Marine from North Dakota, alive and also shows the shooting of what appears to be a blindfolded man on his knees in an open field.

The authenticity of the video, which purportedly was shown by the Islamic Army of Iraq, could not be verified. The Islamic Army of Iraq wrote in a message posted on the Internet on Dec. 8 that they had killed Schulz.

Meanwhile, a suicide car bomber targeted a convoy carrying an Iraqi police colonel in Baghdad. Two civilians were killed by the blast, news services reported. The colonel, two bodyguards and five civilians were wounded.

In a separate attack Monday in the capital, gunmen fired on the convoy of Baghdad’s deputy governor, Ziad al-Zawbai. Three of his bodyguards were killed and al-Zawbai was wounded.

The U.S. military also announced Monday that a Marine assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force was killed in combat from small-arms fire a day earlier in the restive western city of Ramadi.