Election outcome delayed in Iraq
Iraqi election officials yesterday delayed announcing the official results of the Jan. 30 elections by several days to allow a recount.
Knight Ridder Newspapers
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraqi election officials yesterday delayed announcing the official results of the Jan. 30 elections by several days to allow a recount of some 150,000 votes and to sort through thousands more that won't be counted because of irregularities.
Also, a wave of kidnappings and assassinations, which had tapered off in the days after the elections, surged again yesterday, reinforcing fears that the elections, in which millions of voters risked their lives to cast ballots, hadn't impeded the insurgency.
An American soldier was killed yesterday and another wounded in an ambush north of the capital, the U.S. military said. Two other American soldiers died earlier in the week, the military said yesterday.
Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for the Iraq operation, said violence in Iraq was back to pre-election levels of roughly 40 insurgent attacks a day.
"People count them different, but the numbers are about where they were before we got into the pre-election violence," Smith said at the Pentagon.
Meanwhile, the counting of votes continued.
Iraqi electoral officials had said the final vote count would be announced by today at the latest. That deadline has been swept aside without a new one set.
At issue in the recount are 300 boxes, with about 500 ballots each, that Iraqi electoral commission member Adel al-Lami said were flagged for problems. The boxes, he said, were in many cases accompanied by tally sheets that didn't add up to the numbers of votes inside. He said other boxes were from provinces where the commission knew voter turnout was low, but the boxes were stuffed full of ballots.
The recount may suggest that monitoring procedures for the counting process are working, although the voting was marred by violence and charges of irregularities.
An unspecified number of ballots were sent to Baghdad from the northern city of Mosul in a variety of unofficial containers, including 174 plastic sacks.
The sacks and various plastic and cardboard boxes were stacked in a corner of the main vote-tally center in Baghdad.
Election officials said gunmen stormed several polling stations in and around Mosul, taking ballots and ballot boxes. Assyrian Christian groups have said that tens of thousands of their members were unable to vote in the Mosul area because polling stations were closed.
Farid Ayar, an electoral commission member, said he thought some boxes were taken from polling stations a day or two before the elections and returned full of ballots. He said the ballots were stacked neatly instead of being crammed in, as happens when people drop their votes through a slot.
Asked how many votes from Mosul may have been tampered with, Ayar said, "We really don't have any idea."
According to partial results released this week, the Shiite Muslim cleric-led United Iraqi Alliance was ahead, with more than 2.3 million votes. A coalition of Kurdish parties was second, with more than 1.1 million votes. Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's slate was third, at 620,459 votes.
It's impossible to gauge the potential effect of uncounted votes or ballots slated for recount because voting officials haven't said how many Iraqis voted and haven't released totals from Baghdad, Basra or Mosul, the country's largest cities.
Ambush near BaladThe U.S. soldier was killed yesterday in an ambush near Balad, a major U.S. base about 50 miles north of Baghdad. Another U.S. soldier died Tuesday of a gunshot wound at the Balad base. A third was killed Sunday while on patrol in Mosul. More than 1,450 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003.
Also yesterday, gunmen ambushed a convoy of Kurdish party officials in Baghdad, killing one and wounding four. And in the southern city of Basra, gunmen killed an Iraqi journalist working for a U.S.-financed TV station and his 3-year-old son as they left their home. Police said they had no leads in the slaying of Abdul Hussein Khazal al-Basri, the correspondent for Al-Hurra TV station, and his young son. Al-Basri was also an official of the Islamic Dawa party, editor of a newspaper in Basra and head of the press office of the Basra City Council.
It was unclear if he was killed for his affiliation with Al-Hurra. The station, launched a year ago, was tailored for Arab audiences to compete with regional stations like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. President Bush said it was created to "cut through the hateful propaganda" broadcast in the Arab world.
In Baghdad, meanwhile, four armed men dragged Riyadh Gatea Alaiwi from his BMW and abducted him while he was on his way to work at the Interior Ministry.
Also yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a few NATO allies pledged to contribute more resources for the crucial effort to train Iraqi security forces, but the scope and potential effect of any new contributions remained unclear as officials traveling with Rice provided scant details.
The new American secretary of state, on a tour of Europe aimed at easing the trans-Atlantic rift over the Iraq war, made the announcement at NATO headquarters in Brussels after what she called "the best discussion of Iraq that we have had as an alliance since the Saddam Hussein regime fell."
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who is meeting his NATO military counterparts in Nice, France, regarding the same issue, yesterday made similar comments about NATO's role in training Iraqis.
Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Nancy A. Youssef and special correspondent Yasser al Salihee contributed from Baghdad. Additional information was from The Associated Press.
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