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More than 99 percent of Iraqi votes valid, nation’s election commission says

BAGHDAD (BP)–Despite fears that Iraq’s young democracy would falter after 1,985 official complaints were lodged over the Dec. 15 elections, the nation’s electoral commission ruled that more than 99 percent of the votes were valid and later released uncertified final results indicating the Shiites won the largest number of seats in parliament while the Sunnis gained ground.

The commission said Jan. 16 that it disregarded votes from 227 ballot boxes because of fraud. Some of the boxes were annulled because fake ballots were used, the Associated Press reported, and others because too many votes were cast. But the total votes thrown out amounted to just two-thirds of 1 percent of the total vote.

Furthermore, an international review group determined Jan. 19 that the election process, which produced about 11 million ballots, was flawed but generally fair given the unstable security conditions in the country.

Election results released Jan. 20 in Iraq indicate the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance won 128 of the 275 total parliament seats, down from the 146 it won last January and 10 seats short of the 138 it needed to rule without coalition partners, AP said.

The Kurds gained the next largest number of seats. An alliance of the two major Kurdish parties won 53 seats, down from the 75 they won last January, and a rival Kurdish ticket called the Kurdish Islamic Group won five seats, which was a gain of three from the outgoing assembly, according to AP.

Sunni Arabs earned more seats for the incoming parliament than they had in the outgoing assembly after they boycotted the January 2005 elections. The Iraqi Accordance Front, a Sunni ticket, won 44 seats, another Sunni coalition won 11 seats, and a few other Sunnis won seats on other tickets, AP said. In the outgoing assembly, the Sunnis had a total of 17 seats.

Also in the December elections, a ticket led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, won 25 seats, a decrease from 40, after allegations of corruption clouded his reputation.

According to the election rules, politicians have four days to protest the final results, and then officials will have 10 days to study complaints before certifying the results, AP said. Parliament will then convene to appoint a new government for Iraq, which experts predict could take two or three months.

In related Iraq news, reports began surfacing earlier this month that the Bush administration will not seek additional funding for Iraq reconstruction efforts when a budget is presented to Congress in February.

Congress approved an $18.4 billion aid package for Iraq in 2003, and that money is expected to run out by the end of this year, The Los Angeles Times reported Jan. 15. Other nations have only contributed a fraction of the funds they promised back then.

By some accounts, as much as 25 percent of the cost of each reconstruction project goes toward supplying security for the effort.

“We were never intending to rebuild Iraq,” Brig. Gen. William McCoy, commander of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in Iraq, said at a recent briefing. “We were providing enough funds to jump-start the reconstruction effort in this country.”

A spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq said the Bush administration “remains committed to helping build Iraq and continues to assess needs on the ground,” the Times said, but the shift will be toward letting Iraqis carry the larger financial burden.

McCoy said the last of 3,100 reconstruction projects in Iraq would be awarded soon, and nearly all of them should be completed by the end of the year, the Times reported. The U.S. embassy said the reconstruction effort has yielded the restoration of sewage treatment to 7.7 million Iraqis, the opening of 21 berths at the Umm Qasr port, the building of nearly 600 miles of freeways and primary roads, and the development of three new international airports. And 124,000 Iraqis are employed under military and reconstruction projects, the Times said.

Also in Iraq, there was no word on the fate of Jill Carroll, the American journalist taken hostage Jan. 7 in one of Baghdad’s roughest neighborhoods. The kidnappers had threatened to kill Carroll, 28, by Friday unless the U.S. released all eight of the female Iraqi prisoners currently in custody.

U.S. officials were meeting with local political leaders in the Sunni community in an effort to determine links to the kidnappers, the AP reported. Her father, Jim Carroll, released a statement appealing for her release that was aired on two Arab television stations Jan. 20.

Carroll intended to interview Adnan al-Dulaimi, a prominent Sunni Arab politician, when she was abducted. On Friday, he called for her release but also vowed to work toward the release of the female Iraqi prisoners.

“We are against violence by any group, and we call the government and U.S. forces to stop raiding houses, arresting women,” al-Dulaimi said in a statement, according to AP. “I call upon the kidnappers to immediately release this reporter who came here to cover Iraq’s news and defending our rights.”

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