- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

BAGHDAD — Cars and trucks returned to Iraq’s roads yesterday as authorities eased tight security imposed for the parliamentary election, and the main Sunni Arab alliance said it was open to forming a governing coalition with a religious Shi’ite bloc.

With Thursday’s voting held peacefully, Iraqi officials also reopened border crossings, except on the frontier with Syria. They said the Syrian crossings would resume in a few days, but did not say why there was a delay.

For a third day, there were few violent incidents reported.

In four shootings, attackers killed a former Iraqi air force officer, a member of a prominent Shi’ite party and two policemen, authorities said. The U.S. command also reported the death of a Marine from a wound not inflicted by the enemy.

Although no official vote figures have been released, authorities estimate just under 70 percent of Iraq’s 15 million registered voters cast ballots Thursday.

The big turnout — particularly among the disaffected Sunni Arab minority that boycotted the election of a temporary legislature last January — has boosted hopes that increasing political participation may undermine the insurgency and allow U.S. troops to begin pulling out next year.

“It is a great thing that the election was violence-free, contrary to many elections in the world,” Adnan al-Dulaimi, a former Islamic studies professor who heads the main Sunni Arab bloc, said at a press conference.

His Iraqi Accordance Front is expected to significantly increase the Sunni Arab presence in the 275-member parliament, where Sunnis won only 17 seats Jan. 30.

Mr. al-Dulaimi predicted Friday that the Shi’ite religious parties will be unable to put together a government even though they are widely expected to hold the largest number of seats and thus have the first chance at forming a coalition.

Shi’ites account for about 60 percent of the country’s 27 million people, compared with 20 percent for Sunni Arabs, and turnout in the Shi’ite heartland of southern and central Iraq was reported especially high.

Jawad al-Maliki, a prominent Shi’ite legislator with the United Iraqi Alliance, said there was “no doubt that initial results show that we will be the strong bloc,” but he conceded a coalition would probably be required.

“We would like to participate with our Sunni brothers and form a national unity government. We have been waiting for them,” he said. “We welcome forging an alliance with them.”

Shi’ite Arabs and Kurds, two groups that were oppressed under the Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein, allied to form the interim government that has ruled since last spring.

An election official in Baghdad said it could be 10 days before results of Thursday’s voting are announced and urged Iraqis to be patient.

“We want to announce the elections’ results as soon as possible so that the public can rest,” Abdul-Hussein Hendawi said. “But … there must be precision in the announcement.”

He said there was no official date for the release of results because the commission was “taking the needed time to review the complaints” already received about voting problems and expected to get more.

Radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, in a speech in the city of Najaf, warned against possible fraud in the election results and called for an independent committee to be formed to count the ballots, Al-Hurra television reported.

Mr. al-Dulaimi also noted irregularities. “We will demand that the elections be carried out again if violations in some areas are proven by the electoral commission,” he said.

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