- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

BAGHDAD — U.S.-backed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was trailing a Shi’ite ticket with ties to Iran in Iraq’s historic election, according to partial returns released yesterday.

In continuing violence, one U.S. soldier was killed and seven wounded in the north, and gunmen seized an Italian journalist in Baghdad.

The United Iraqi Alliance, endorsed by Iraq’s top Shi’ite clerics, captured more than two-thirds of the 3.3 million votes counted so far, the election commission said. The ticket headed by Mr. Allawi, a secular Shi’ite, had about 18 percent — or more than 579,700 votes.

Those latest partial figures from Sunday’s contest for 275 National Assembly seats came from 10 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, said Hamdiyah al-Husseini, an election commission official. All 10 provinces have heavy Shi’ite populations, and the Alliance had been expected to do well there. So far, 45 percent of the vote has been counted in Baghdad, with varying percentages tallied in the other nine provinces.

No returns have been released from the Kurdish provinces of the north or mainly Sunni provinces north and west of the capital. Many Sunni Arabs, who make up an estimated 20 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people, are believed to have stayed away from the polls — either out of fear of retaliation or anger about a vote held while U.S. troops are in the country.

The Shi’ite ticket was also running strong among Iraqis who voted in 14 foreign countries. The International Organization for Migration, which supervised the expatriate vote, said the Shi’ite Alliance won about 36 percent of the 263,685 absentee ballots. The Kurdish Alliance List took nearly 30 percent, and Mr. Allawi’s ticket was third with about 9 percent.

The developments have prompted fear that the Sunni Arab minority will not accept any new government that emerges from the election, fueling the mainly Sunni insurgency that has plagued Iraq since the fall of Saddam’s regime nearly two years ago.

In the latest insurgent attacks, one American soldier was killed yesterday and seven others were wounded by a roadside bomb outside Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. command said. Another American soldier died Thursday when a U.S. Army Stryker combat vehicle detonated anti-tank mines in Mosul.

At least 1,443 American military personnel have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

Meanwhile, gunmen seized Giuliana Sgrena, a journalist for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, in a hail of gunfire after blocking her car near the Baghdad University compound. She had gone there to interview refugees from Fallujah and to attend Friday prayers at a nearby mosque, according to Italian radio journalist Barbara Schiavulli.

Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said Miss Sgrena may have been taken by a Sunni gang “who shot at our martyrs of Nasiriyah,” referring to the November 2003 bombing of Italian paramilitary barracks in a southern Shi’ite city.

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