Shiites Sunnis Demonstrate Against One

Shiites, Sunnis, Demonstrate Against one Another over Elections;
Five Percent of Ballots Fraudulent: IECI

According to Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times, Sunni Arab cabinet ministers requested that the United Iraqi Alliance donate 10 of their seats to Sunni Arab candidates. Apparently they hoped such a gesture would mollify Sunni Arab activists who believe that the Shiites unfairly stole the election. The UIA declined, nor would such a gesture probably have been legal.

Sunnis rallied again on Sunday against the election outcome, crying fraud, at Baqubah in the northeast and Fallujah west of the capital. In Baqubah after the demonstrations, guerrilla groups engaged local Iraqi police, killing 4 of them and wounding 15.

In Fallujah, hundreds of protesters came out. Some rallied against the election results. Others demanded release of detainees held by the US and Iraqi governments, or wanted to be paid compensation for the property damage the city suffered during the November, 2004, assault on the city by US forces, which destroyed 2/3s of the buildings and left most inhabitants refugees. Still others wanted the government to repeal the tripling of fuel costs.

In Sadr City, the vast Shiite slum of East Baghdad, about 1,000 Shiites held a demonstration in support of the electoral victory apparently gained by the United Iraqi Alliance. They supported the government of Ibrahim Jaafari, denounced former prime minister Iyad Allawi (a secular Shiite and oldtime CIA asset), and demanded the execution of Saddam Hussein.

Nancy Youssef of Knight Ridder reports increasingly vehement anti-Iranian sentiment among Iraq’s Sunni Arabs. They blame Iran for supporting the fundamentalist Shiite parties, and for a string of assassinations of Sunni figures.

Two US soldiers died in Iraq on Sunday, and some 16 Iraqis were killed in guerrilla violence in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, Jabala and Baqubah. Guerrillas destroyed an Abrams tank with a roadside bomb, which would have taken a big explosive device, though no US casualties in the event appear yet to have been released. It is not good news that the guerrillas have evolved to the point where they can destroy an Abrams tank.

Iraq’s minister of justice, Abdel Hussein Shandal, narrowly avoided being assassinated on Saturday when guerrillas sprayed his car with machine gun fire, killing two.

Al-Hayat [Ar.]: The London pan-Arab daily says that American pressure has increased on the Shiite funamentalist parties to form a government of national unity so as to exit from the current crisis, and that the US is using President Jalal Talabani (a prominent Kurd) as their go-between. US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is playing a key role in attempting to bring the parties together so that a government can be formed, according to another London daily, al-Sharq al-Awsat

Al-Sharq al-Awsat quotes an official of the Iraqi Accord Front, Zafir al-Ani, as saying that electoral fraud in the parliamentary elections of Dec. 15 was “the closest thing to a mercy killing of the entire political process in Iraq.” He added that his Sunni fundamentalist coalition was keeping all options open, including that of completely boycotting that political process. He said that his list is getting enormous popular pressure from Sunni Arab voters who were promised that voting on Dec. 15 would restore ethnic and sectarian balance to parliament.

Al-Hayat: The United Iraqi Alliance, the victorious Shiite coalition, has rejected charges that its victory was engineered through voting fraud, and its prominent leaders have intimated that they might take measures against “instigators of violence” (i.e. Sunni Arabs protesting the election results). The massive Sunni demonstrations last Friday and the belligerant Shiite response have raised profound fears that the Iraq crisis could escalate to a new level of violence and instability.

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq admitted on Sunday that voting fraud occurred in approximately 5 percent of the ballots cast, but said that this level of fraud would not affect the over-all outcome. Still, the IECI announcement will certainly fuel Sunni Arab anger and conviction that the election was stolen.

Shiite Iraqi politician Hussein Shahristani maintained that United Nations and European Union observers viewed the December 15 elections as among the more above-board and clean in the third world, and said that there is no doubt that its results reflected the will of the people.

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