10,000 Protest in Baghdad as Leaders Negotiate a Coalition
They marched to demand a rerun of a ballot that appears poised to hand a legislative majority to the religious Shiite alliance, which with its Kurdish allies, currently controls the interim government.
The marchers, some of them carrying photos of former Shiite Prime Minister Ayad Allawi of the secular Iraqi National List, chanted “No Sunnis, no Shiites, yes for national unity.”
The protests come amid complaints by Sunni and secular Shiite factions of voter fraud who say the elections were fixed to favor the Shiite alliance in some key provinces, including Baghdad where the Shiite coalition took 59 percent of the vote, Sunnis 19 percent and the Iraqi National List 14 percent. Preliminary national results give a strong lead to the United Iraqi Alliance, the religious Shiite coalition.
Iraq’s Electoral Commission said Monday that final election results could be released in about a week to allow time to review 1,500 complaints, 35 of which the commission considers serious enough to change some local results.
Sunni and Shiite political leaders have set up separate, bilateral meetings to discuss forming a governing coalition government with interim President Jalal Talabani in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the United Iraqi Alliance leader will meet late Tuesday with Talabani and Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish region. Talabani also plans to meet Allawi and leaders of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the main Sunni coalition, later in the week.
U.S. officials are also closely involved in trying to find a stable, consensus government that could stabilize Iraq and allow a withdrawal of American troops.
However, a recent surge of violence in Iraq has killed at least three dozen people — including two U.S. soldiers. Sunni and secular Shiite politicians warned that if complaints of voter fraud in the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections are not investigated, rebel groups will increase attacks and civil disobedience.
Clashes with gunmen on Tuesday left six Iraqi policemen and two civilians dead. Shootings and bombings killed at least two dozen people, including a U-S soldier, on Monday and 18 people on Sunday. Quelling such violence will be the main task of the incoming government.
In Karbala, a Shiite holy city in the south of Iraq, municipal workers doing maintenance work on Monday uncovered what police believe to be a mass grave dating back to 1991 when Saddam Hussein’s regime put down a Shiite uprising. Police would not say how many bodies were found.