U.N.-led team finds Iraq election credible

Associated Press
Published December 29, 2005

BAGHDAD - A senior U.N. official said Wednesday that Iraq's parliamentary elections were credible and the results should stand, angering Sunni Arabs who have taken to the streets demanding a new vote.

The U.N. endorsement, which came after opposition groups demanded international intervention, was likely to deflate their calls for the elections to be canceled. Final results are expected to be announced next week.

Preliminary results, which gave a big lead to the ruling Shiite religious bloc, also indicated that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, a former Washington insider, will not be re-elected to the new 275-member Parliament, his office said.

The United Nations official, Craig Jenness, said at a news conference organized by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq that his U.N.-led international election assistance team found the elections to be fair.

"The United Nations is of the view that these elections were transparent and credible," said Jenness, a Canadian electoral expert. He said the number of complaints was less than one for every 7,000 voters. About 70 percent of Iraq's 15-million voters went to the polls.

His remarks came as crucial support for Iraqi election commission officials, who refused opposition demands to step down. They, too, said the elections were free and fair and that they would deal with the few instances of fraud and rigging of ballot boxes.

"No wide, premeditated and systematic fraud was noticed," Iraqi election official Safwat Rashid said.

In yet another political demonstration, more than 4,000 people rallied Wednesday in Samarra, a predominantly Sunni Arab town 60 miles north of Baghdad. Demonstrators carried banners reading, "We refuse the election forgery."

Preliminary results from the vote have given the governing Shiite religious bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, a big lead - but one which still would require forming a coalition with other groups.

The Shiite bloc held further talks with Kurdish leaders Wednesday and said preparations were being made to choose a candidate for prime minister, who they have said must come from the United Iraqi Alliance.

Prison escape attempt leaves eight people dead

BAGHDAD - Inmates stormed a prison armory in a northern Baghdad suburb Wednesday, killing eight people and wounding a U.S. soldier, Iraqi and U.S. military officials said.

The botched escape attempt comes days after the United States said it would not hand over prisoners to Iraqi officials until they improved conditions in the overcrowded prison system.

Wednesday's incident occurred at the Justice Ministry's A'dala Prison in Kazimiyah.

An Iraqi prisoner managed to disarm a guard and fired randomly with his assault rifle, said Iraqi army Brig. Gen. Jalil al-Mehamadawi. Four guards and four inmates were killed before the gunman was restrained.

The U.S. military's account differed somewhat. A statement by Sgt. Keith Robinson said, "It was reported that 16 prisoners attempted to escape the facility after first storming the armory and obtaining an undetermined number of weapons."

Besides the eight deaths, one U.S. soldier and five prisoners were injured, Robinson said.

No one was available for comment at the ministry.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Wednesday that the prison was not under U.S. control.