- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2005

BAGHDAD — Dozens of Sunni Arab and secular Shi’ite groups threatened to boycott Iraq’s new legislature yesterday if complaints about tainted voting are not reviewed by an international body.

A representative for former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi described the Dec. 15 vote as “fraudulent” and the elected lawmakers “illegitimate.”

A joint statement issued by 35 political groups that competed in last week’s elections said the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, which oversaw the ballot, should be disbanded.

It also said the more than 1,250 complaints about fraud, ballot-box stuffing and intimidation should be reviewed by international organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference or the Arab League.

The political turmoil came as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz made surprise visits to their nations’ troops.

In Baghdad, Mr. Rumsfeld hinted that the U.S. military will soon begin a modest reduction in troop levels by canceling the scheduled deployment of two Army brigades. That would bring U.S. troop levels below 138,000, the level considered the core force for most of this year.

In Basra in the south, Mr. Blair said Iraq’s political and security situation had improved during the past year, but he refused to set a timetable for withdrawing Britain’s 8,000 troops.

The trial of Saddam Hussein also adjourned until Jan. 24, after two days of hearings into the deaths of more than 140 people in the town of Dujail in 1982.

Saddam claimed he was “tortured” while in U.S. detention, but investigative Judge Raid al-Juhi, who prepared the case, told reporters that neither the defendants nor their lawyers had ever complained about beatings.

Violence around the country, including a suicide car bombing and several shootings, left more than a dozen people dead, including six police officers, authorities said.

A U.S. soldier was killed by a bomb explosion while on patrol in Baghdad yesterday, the U.S. military command said.

The electoral commission that monitored the elections reported receiving more than 1,500 complaints of violations — of which 25 were described as serious. However, it does not expect the complaints to change the overall result, to be announced next month.

Results released Tuesday showed the governing Shi’ite grouping, the United Iraqi Alliance, winning strong majorities not only in Baghdad but in the largely Shi’ite southern provinces.

Politicians say that based on preliminary results, the alliance seems on course to win between 120 and 130 seats — compared with 140 now.

Sunni Arabs may increase their seats from 17 to more than 40, while the Kurds are expected to hold between 40 and 50. Mr. Allawi, who controls 40 seats, is expected to drop to 20 seats.

Despite the lead, the Shi’ite religious bloc likely will fall short of the 184 seats necessary to choose a new president, the first step needed to form a government, and will have to find a coalition partner in the 275-member parliament.

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