New York Times
February 6, 2005
BAGHDAD - Shiite religious parties moved closer to an overwhelming electoral sweep in southern Iraq and Baghdad, as the first results in contests for local governing councils showed those parties, many with ties to neighboring Iran, leading in all nine provinces that have had a substantial number of their votes counted.
Early returns in the vote for a national assembly had already shown the leading Shiite coalition collecting about two-thirds of the vote in the south. Iraq's electoral commission, which disclosed the new results in Baghdad on Saturday, has not yet released any returns in either local or national elections for provinces north of Baghdad, where large numbers of Kurds, Sunni Arabs and other groups are expected to do well. On Sunday, with 40 percent of the polling stations in Baghdad reporting results, the leading three political groups were all Shiite affiliated. Together, they had 583,443 votes out of 921,569 that had been counted.
The electoral commission also said that for the first time, fines had been levied against political parties for violating election rules. Allegations of widespread voting improprieties have dogged the commission in the days after the election, and officials have acknowledged that they have already received more than 200 claims of irregularities at voting stations both inside and outside Iraq.
The issue is charged because by law, all formal complaints must be resolved before a new government can be seated. By issuing fines of 2 million dinars, or about $1,300, to seven major political parties including the Shiite party that is leading in the national vote, the commission is conceding for the first time that some of the claims have merit.
The seven parties were fined for failing to abide by an embargo on campaigning for the 48 hours before a vote. "There are a number of political parties that continued with their campaign after the beginning of the gag period," said Adel al-Lami, a member of the commission.
As the election returns crept in, sporadic violence broke out around Iraq. In the normally quiet southern city of Basra, a roadside bomb was used against an Iraqi national guard convoy, killing four guard members when it exploded at 8:30 a.m. in the center of the city, a spokesman for the Basra police force said. A dozen other Iraqis were killed in incidents around the country, including two Iraqi soldiers, and two children were killed in separate explosions in the northern city of Samarra, Agence France-Presse reported.
A leading figure in a Christian political party that had boycotted the elections was kidnapped Saturday on the road between Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul, Iraqi officials in the city reported. The man, Enas Ebrahim al-Youssefi, had recently been involved in a dispute over whether to fly the Iraqi or the Kurdish flag over the city council building in his home town, just north of Mosul, one of the officials said.
[Also on Saturday, Reuters reported, a militant group in Iraq claimed responsibility for kidnapping an Italian journalist and threatened to kill her by Monday, after another group had claimed to kidnap her on Friday, according to an Internet statement. The Jihad Organization said it would kill Giuliana Sgrena if Italy did not withdraw its troops from Iraq.]
Mr. Lami and Dr. Ayar continued to play down reports of widespread election irregularities in the vicinity of Mosul, although they said the incidents would be checked. Some local officials have claimed that hundreds of thousands of Kurdish Christians were prevented from voting because balloting materials did not arrive. "There are complaints that are serious," Mr. Lami said.
The Shiite party that was fined for violating the campaign law is identified with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric. Among the other parties receiving fines was the one that is currently running in second place in national voting, a secular group led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
The Iraqis Party, led by President Ghazi al-Yawar, and a party led by Adnan Pachachi, an Iraqi foreign minister in the years before Saddam Hussein took power, also received fines. Dr. Pachachi was seen in a campaign ad on Al Arabiya, which is broadcast in Iraq, on the day before the election.
Groups with leads in the provincial elections in the south include the Baghdad Local Bloc, an amalgam of Shiite parties, and the Faddila Islamic Party, led by the cleric Muhammad Yacoubi. Mr. Yacoubi was allied with the father of the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr. Mr. Sadr's father, a highly respected cleric, was killed by Saddam Hussein's government. A party affiliated with the younger Sadr is also leading in one southern province, Misan.