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Iraqi Prime Minister Urges Unity After Elections

Individual polling stations had completed their counts and local centers were preparing tally sheets to send to Baghdad, where the vote totals will be compiled, election commission official Adel al-Lami said, according to the Associated Press. A final result could take up to 10 days.

Although election commission officials said turnout in hardline Sunni areas was better than expected, a U.S. diplomat said participation by Sunni Arab voters appeared to have been low, raising fears that the group that drives the insurgency could grow even more alienated, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, the militant group Ansar al-Islam claimed on Monday that its fighters, using an anti-tank missile, shot down a British military C-130 Hercules transport plane that crashed north of Baghdad just after polls closed Sunday.

All 10 military personnel on the flight were missing and presumed dead — which would be Britain’s heaviest single loss of life of the war — Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.

Allawi said at a press conference Monday, “The terrorists now know that they cannot win. We are entering a new era of our history and all Iraqis — whether they voted or not — should stand side by side to build their future.”

The votes cast on Sunday elected 275 members of a national assembly for an 11-month term. The assembly, which will replace the interim Iraqi government headed by Allawi, will debate a new national constitution. If the constitution is accepted, Iraqis will vote for a permanent government in December.

After an election ban on most daytime driving, cars again took to the streets in Baghdad on Monday.

The absence of any catastrophic single attack Sunday seemed at least partly a result of the heavy security measures, including a ban on most private cars. At least 44 people were killed in election day violence, eight of them suicide bombers who moved on foot, blowing up near polling sites in Baghdad, according to the AP.

Two U.S. service members also died in fighting in the Sunni stronghold of Anbar province west of Baghdad Sunday.

Nonetheless, the election was hailed as a success around the globe.

“The world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East,” President Bush said.

The top opponents to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq had praise for the vote, though with reservation. French President Jacques Chirac phoned President Bush and said he was satisfied by Iraqi participation in the vote. “These elections mark an important step in the political reconstruction of Iraq. The strategy of terrorist groups has partly failed,” Chirac said, according to a spokesman.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the election an “historic event for the Iraqi people because it is undoubtedly a step toward democratization of the country.”

But his Foreign Ministry expressed regret over the low Sunni turnout, echoing worries expressed by several world leaders. It warned of difficulties “if other political forces feel removed from state affairs,” according to wire reports.

On Monday, lawmakers, including Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, planned to call on the president to outline a U.S. exit strategy for Iraq.

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