- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 24, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s top political leaders aimed yesterday to defuse a gathering crisis over contested general election results, while the country’s top Shi’ite cleric called for setting up a national unity government.

President Jalal Talabani met with representatives from the two main political coalitions disputing the results of the Dec. 15 elections, the Sunni Accordance Front and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National List, as well as his own Kurdish Alliance.

“There is a crisis … and it is necessary to recognize there are problems, rather than hide them,” Mahdi al-Hafez of the Allawi list told reporters after the meeting.

According to preliminary election results, the religious Shi’ite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which dominated the outgoing parliament, will also control the next parliament. Final results are not expected before January.

The alliance won overwhelming majorities in the country’s southern provinces, as well as the key province of Baghdad, while Mr. Allawi’s secular Shi’ite list performed poorly.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, the spiritual leader for many among the nation’s Shi’ite majority, appealed for calm and urged the setting up of a government of national unity, national security adviser Mowaffak Rubaie said after meeting with him.

The ayatollah said Shi’ite-based religious parties should “work with other components of the Iraqi people to set up a government of national unity representative of all the country’s main [political] families,” Mr. Rubaie said.

Two dozen parties, including the main Sunni Arab coalition, Thursday called for a rerun of the general elections because of purported fraud.

Elements from the Sunni Arab minority, dominant under ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, are seen as the backbone behind the insurgency.

Electoral commission official Adel al-Lami said the commission was investigating some 1,500 complaints, but he appeared to rule out any large-scale new balloting.

“If need be, voting can be repeated in small areas, but there is no evidence until now this will be required,” he said.

Complaints concerned no more than 5 percent of the total of some 10 million votes cast, he added.

Jawad al-Maliki, a UIA leader, ruled out any election rerun. “One has to accept the results,” he told a news conference.

He also lashed out at demonstrators, warning that “any appeal to violence against the government could be considered as inciting sectarian strife and terrorism,” crimes that can warrant life prison sentences.

Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Shi’ite Badr Organization, acknowledged that election result appeals were legitimate, but “they must be made lawfully.”

“We call on demonstrators not to make threats,” he said, before also warning of possible prosecutions.

In a new twist yesterday, the electoral commission said a court had ruled that former officials from Saddam’s Ba’ath Party who ran in the elections were to be struck from the lists.

“The Supreme Judicial Court has overruled the commission’s initial decision to allow them to run, and we are now applying the law and removing the names of about 100 candidates,” Mr. Lami said.

The electoral law does not allow former senior officials from Saddam’s Ba’ath Party to run for parliament. Most of those struck off are believed to be members of the Sunni Arab minority.

Insurgents, meanwhile, kept up their attacks across the country, killing at least 19 Iraqis, including two soldiers and five policemen.

The kidnappers of a Jordanian driver gave Amman authorities a three-day ultimatum for his release, according to a video broadcast on the Al Arabiya satellite channel.

The hostage, an employee for the Jordanian Embassy in Iraq, was snatched in southern Baghdad on Tuesday and was shown in the video surrounded by three armed men wearing masks.

The kidnappers demanded the release within three days of an Iraqi woman suspected of involvement in triple deadly bomb blasts in Amman on Nov. 9, but did not specify what would happen if their demands were not met.

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