- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Iyad Allawi yesterday urged Iraq’s political and religious groups to work together for the sake of the nation as officials — flushed with the success of the Sunday elections — settled down to count the ballots.

“Today, we are entering a new phase in our history. It is time for all Iraqis to come together and build our future. It is time to put the troubles and divisions of the past behind us,” Mr. Allawi said.

Addressing concerns that the turnout was lower among Sunni Arabs than among Shi’ites, he said it was crucial that there emerge a “new national dialogue that guarantees that all Iraqis have a voice in the new government.”

Election officials in polling stations nationwide upended thousands of unsealed clear plastic ballot boxes and began to sort out the votes for Iraq’s new 275-seat national assembly.

The ballots are then to be transported to a national center where they will be recounted and tallied. The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq said it expected the official result to be announced by Feb. 9.

The vote took place under a massive U.S. and Iraqi security clampdown, which officials said had demonstrated the capabilities of the new Iraqi security forces.

“Iraqi police can now hold their heads up high,” said Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Nakib, who called police who died under fire “martyrs.”

Mr. al-Nakib said about 200 terrorists were arrested or killed Sunday, including an Assyrian, a Sudanese, a Yemeni, two Saudis and an Egyptian. There were seven attacks on police, 46 on civilians and 38 on polling stations, he said.

A U.S. diplomat said there were 260 attacks nationwide — four or five times more than normal. More than 100 of the attacks were aimed at polling stations, with suicide bombers wearing explosives-laden vests in eight instances. Forty-four persons were reported killed.

“What was significant about these attacks was the low degree of lethality,” the diplomat said. “This was a tremendous security effort, [and] in almost every case, it was the Iraqi forces which stopped the attacks.”

Mr. al-Nakib said one policeman threw himself on an attacker wearing an explosives-laden vest. The policeman died when the vest blew up, but several people were saved.

In another incident, terrorists used a handicapped child to carry out a suicide attack. “This is an indication of the horrific actions they are carrying out,” the minister said.

Insurgents killed three U.S. Marines in a roadside bombing south of the capital. A riot broke out during a search for contraband at a prison in southern Iraq, ending only when U.S. forces fired into the crowd, killing four men.

Jordanian terror leader Abu Musab Zarqawi pledged on an Islamist Web site that his group’s attacks would not end “until the banner of [Islamic] unity flutters over Iraq.”

“These elections and their results … will increase our strength and intention to getting rid of injustice,” the statement said.

Separately, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network yesterday aired a video supplied by Iraqi insurgents that purported to show a missile had downed a transport plane that killed 10 British soldiers on Sunday.

The footage, which could not be independently verified, showed wreckage of the plane in the desert near Baghdad. But a British newspaper reported that London authorities think the plane had been flying too high to be hit by a missile and are considering whether a bomb had been placed on board before takeoff.

U.S. officials acknowledged that the calm established by the security clampdown Sunday could not continue once curfews are lifted, borders are reopened and traffic patterns return to normal.

Even before the ballot-counting began, political leaders were preparing to negotiate the coalitions that will be needed for anything to get done in the national assembly.

The chamber’s first order of business is to choose a three-person presidency council, which must be elected by a two-thirds majority.

“People who have the same [political] denominator will be working together, [and] religious parties standing on religious platforms will be standing on the other side,” said Iraqi President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer.

“Both will need each other — the sectarian-oriented and the religious-oriented. We will have to reach a consensus, you will see, you will be surprised,” he told reporters in his offices inside the U.S.-fortified green zone.

Vote counting was reported to have proceeded rapidly yesterday.

Members of the Shi’ite-led United Iraqi Alliance, which like other parties had representatives observing the counting, said they had secured 80 percent to 90 percent of the vote in some southern cities and as much as 45 percent nationwide.

A mainly Shi’ite party led by Mr. Allawi and a Kurdish coalition also were thought to have done well.

“We are still insisting to form a partnership government including all segments of the Iraqi people,” said Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the United Iraqi Alliance, which is closely associated with the revered cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani.

One older Sunni man, who said he had refused to vote because the country was under U.S. occupation, said the new government would have to sit down with the resistance and see what it wants.

“The politicians have been unable to control the country. Let us now listen to the others — putting terrorists aside,” he said.

Iraqis typically distinguish between foreign terrorists such as Zarqawi and violent Iraqi nationalists — who they think can be persuaded to join the political process.

The U.S. diplomat said the most violent insurgents were unlikely to ease up on attacks just because of the elections.

“If I were an insurgent, I would be really bitterly disappointed at what happened yesterday,” he said.

“I would decide, ‘What am I going to do about it?’ I certainly wouldn’t conclude I should surrender. I would have to conclude ‘I have to show I’m still a player,’ ” he said.

“The Zarqawis and the wannabe Zarqawis are all about violence and all about chaos. They enjoy what they do, and they’re good at it,” he said, but added that less-militant groups might be persuaded to reconsider their approach.

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