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Archive for Sunday, December 18, 2005

Iraq eases security after vote

December 18, 2005

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— Cars and trucks returned to Iraq's roads Saturday as authorities eased tight security imposed for the parliamentary election, and the main Sunni Arab alliance said it was open to forming a governing coalition with a religious Shiite bloc.

With Thursday's voting held peacefully, Iraqi officials also reopened border crossings, except on the frontier with Syria. They said the Syrian crossings would resume in a few days, but did not say why there was a delay.

There were few violent incidents reported for a third day. In four shootings, attackers killed a former Iraqi air force officer, a member of a prominent Shiite party and two policemen, authorities said. The U.S. command also reported the death of a Marine from a non-hostile wound.

Although no official vote figures have been released, authorities estimate just less than 70 percent of Iraq's 15 million registered voters cast ballots Thursday.

The big turnout - particularly among the disaffected Sunni Arab minority that boycotted the election of a temporary legislature in January - have boosted hopes that increasing political participation may undermine the insurgency and allow U.S. troops to begin pulling out next year.


Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari waves to well-wishers Saturday in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq, where he made a nationally televised speech and congratulated Iraqis for their strong election turnout. He said the time has come for Iraqis of all religious affiliations to work together to "build a new Iraq."

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari waves to well-wishers Saturday in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq, where he made a nationally televised speech and congratulated Iraqis for their strong election turnout. He said the time has come for Iraqis of all religious affiliations to work together to "build a new Iraq."

"It is a great thing that the election was violence free, contrary to many elections in the world," Adnan al-Dulaimi, a former Islamic studies professor who heads the main Sunni Arab bloc, said at a news conference.

His Iraqi Accordance Front is expected to significantly increase the Sunni Arab presence in the 275-member parliament, where Sunnis won only 17 seats Jan. 30.

A day after saying he might be able to form a ruling coalition from Sunnis, secular Shiites and Kurds, Al-Dulaimi said he also would consider working with the now governing United Iraqi Alliance, a religious-based group whose supporters come from the country's Shiite majority.

"For the sake of Iraq, there is nothing impossible. We have to forget the past and we extend our hands to everybody," he said.

U.S. officials view al-Dulaimi as a possible intermediary who could persuade some Sunni-led insurgent groups in restive Anbar province to give up violence and join the political process. President Bush planned to make a broadcast address on Iraq tonight.

Al-Dulaimi predicted Friday that the Shiite religious parties will be unable to put together a government even though they are widely expected to hold the largest number of seats and thus have the first chance at forming a coalition.

His optimism remains to be seen, however. Shiites account for about 60 percent of the country's 27 million people, compared to 20 percent for Sunni Arabs, and turnout in the Shiite heartland of southern and central Iraq was reported high.

Shiite Arabs and Kurds, two groups that were oppressed under the Sunni Arab-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein, allied to form the interim government that has ruled since the spring.

An election official in Baghdad said it could be 10 days before results of Thursday's voting are announced and urged Iraqis to be patient.

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