- The Washington Times - Friday, December 23, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s leading Shi’ite religious bloc said yesterday it is ready to discuss Sunni Arab participation in a coalition government, while thousands of Sunnis and some secular Shi’ites demonstrated in the streets claiming election fraud.

A Sudanese diplomat and five other Sudanese were kidnapped as they left prayers at a mosque yesterday, their foreign ministry said. It identified the diplomat as Abdel Moneam Mohammad Tom, second secretary at Sudan’s mission in Baghdad.

The U.S. military said two American soldiers were killed yesterday when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in Baghdad. It also reported a bomb killed another soldier in the capital Thursday.

Gunmen attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint in the city of Adhaim in religiously and ethnically mixed Diyala province, killing eight soldiers and wounding 17, an Iraqi army officer said.

In Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt outside a Shi’ite mosque, killing four persons and wounding eight, police said.

About 20,000 people took part in a mass demonstration against the Dec. 15 elections for a new parliament. The march was organized by 35 Sunni Arab and secular Shi’ite political parties after Friday prayers.

Many people outside the governing Shi’ite religious-oriented political bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, say the elections were unfair to Sunni Arab and secular Shi’ite groups.

More than 2,000 people also demonstrated in Mosul, where some accused Iran of having a hand in election fraud. About 1,000 people demonstrated in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown.

Sunni Arab and secular Shi’ite factions are demanding that an international body review the fraud complaints, warning that they may boycott the new legislature. The United Nations rejected an outside review.

The demand was issued after preliminary returns indicated the United Iraqi Alliance was getting bigger-than-expected majorities in Baghdad, which has large numbers of secular Shi’ites and Sunnis.

About 1,500 complaints have been lodged about the elections, including 40 or so that the Iraqi election commission said are serious enough to change the results in certain areas.

The protesting groups have demanded the disbandment of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, accusing it of covering up ballot-box stuffing and fraud.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite, defended the commission yesterday, saying the government does not meddle in its affairs.

“Our victory as a government, our real victory, is that the election process included all political groups,” Mr. al-Jaafari said.

Religious parties based in Iraq’s Shi’ite majority called on Sunni Arabs to accept the election results and consider joining a coalition government after the final results are released early next month.

“We are very close to our Sunni brothers, more than other groups, and with them we can form a national unity government,” said Bahaa al-Din al-Araji, a senior member of the United Iraqi Alliance.

“These results reflect Iraqi reality, and they have to accept this reality,” he added.

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