Complaints of Vote Irregularities Emerge

Some polling stations were shuttered. Others ran out of ballots. A provincial governor's name was left off the list of candidates. And some minorities complain it is all a plot to silence them.

One week after Iraq's (search) historic election, allegations of confusion, mismanagement or worse are surfacing, complicating the vote count and perhaps providing ammunition for politicians to question the entire process if they do not fare well in the final tally.

It is too early to tell if the criticism can undermine the legitimacy of the incoming National Assembly. But in some local races, fears are already strong that flawed elections will give rise to provincial councils with skewed demographic representation.

The most serious allegations are concentrated in violence-plagued areas or those with mixed religious and ethnic groups. Failure to reconcile discord over the Jan. 30 vote could worsen local tensions.

Iraq's electoral commission says it has received more than 100 complaints of irregularities. It has formed an independent team of three lawyers to investigate, though election officials have sought to downplay the scope and seriousness of the problems.

"There are political parties that have contested the legitimacy of the election process even before the voting started," election official Adel al-Lami said. "It's because they know they won't get many votes."

On Sunday, hundreds of Iraqis — mostly Assyrian Christians and Turkomens — shouted slogans and waved Iraqi flags outside Baghdad's heavily guarded Green Zone to protest alleged irregularities in Mosul (search) that they say prevented tens of thousands from voting.

Because of the security situation, many international monitors watched the election from nearby Jordan (search). Much of the voting and ballot counting was done in the presence of party representatives with their own agendas. And critics say Iraqi monitors, however impartial, had little experience.

One of the first public complaints came from Iraq's president, Ghazi al-Yawer, who told reporters that tens of thousands of people in Mosul were unable to vote because of insufficient ballots. Al-Yawer's base is in that northern city, which has a largely Sunni Arab population and significant Kurdish and Christian minorities.

His ticket is faring poorly in the early vote count nationally.

The ballot shortage in Mosul meant many Sunni Arabs and others who wanted to vote could not. Other Sunnis stayed at home either out of fear of insurgent reprisals or opposition to balloting with foreign troops in the country.

However, such complaints are not limited to the Sunni Arabs. Kurds, Christians and Turkomens have lodged similar grievances.

Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and its surrounding areas are at the epicenter of complaints. Mosul presented special challenges even apart from the ethnic and cultural mix.

There was a rebel uprising in the city in November and the entire 5,000-member police force deserted. U.S. and Iraqi forces quickly restored order but the situation remained tense.

With the insurgents threatening to disrupt the balloting, many — if not most — of Mosul's election workers quit their jobs. Officials had to recruit replacements from as far away as Baghdad.

Few expected a big turnout in Mosul. But election day was calmer than predicted and many voters did show — only to discover that some polling centers never opened and others ran out of ballots.

The scope of the problem remains unclear, but several politicians claim hundreds of thousands were disenfranchised in the city and surrounding province. An investigation is under way.

"There are centers that opened and yet did not get enough ballots, which proves there were bad intentions," said Meshaan al-Jubouri, a Sunni Arab politician.

He claimed election officials were among those who "didn't want the Sunnis to vote so that the Shiites could score a fake victory."

Al-Jubouri is demanding that an international commission investigate the Mosul complaints and another election be held. The commission denies any move to disenfranchise voters but has ruled out a new election.

In the oil-rich city of Kirkuk — home to Arabs, Kurds, Turkomens and Christians — some groups accused Kurdish parties of packing the rolls with Kurdish voters from elsewhere. The Kurds say those voters were forcibly expelled under Saddam Hussein and have a right to return.

Countering those charges, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan official Rizgar Ali claimed ballot boxes were stuffed in favor of a largely Arab faction in Hawija, which also ran short of ballots.

Hawija, about 25 miles southwest of Kirkuk, is predominantly Sunni Arab and the scene of recent insurgent activity. But Ali said small-scale violations would not undermine the elections.

"This is the first experience for the Iraqis, who have very little experience in democracy and elections," he said. "Don't worry about Kirkuk."

Others cannot help but worry.

Ghassan Mozher al-Assi, an Arab tribal sheik in Kirkuk, claimed that the shortage of ballots in Hawija was an attempt "to muffle the voice of the people and make the Arabs of Kirkuk look like a minority."

In Diyala province, Gov. Abdullah al-Jubouri said he and his list of candidates were not even on the ballot.

"There are political currents that wanted to create sectarian strife in the province," said the governor, a Sunni Arab.

Al-Lami, the electoral commission official, said the governor never submitted his final candidate list.

The governor said he received assurances he would stay in his post, and he urged other disenfranchised candidates to focus on a planned December election for full-term governments.

While the vote seemed to go smoother in Shiite areas, the vote in the Shiite holy city of Najaf produced a round of finger-pointing by the governor and the electoral commission.

Al-Lami said there were complaints that the Najaf governor used the police and Iraqi National Guardsmen to urge voters to support his list and to attack commission workers in the city.

"I consider these elections to be unfair," Gov. Adnan al-Zurufi said, accusing some politicians and commission employees of their own irregularities.

Al-Lami said the vote's credibility could not be judged before complaints were investigated.

"The vast majority thinks the elections were a success," he said.