BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi authorities tallied millions of ballots Friday and received some complaints about the conduct of the parliamentary election, including allegations of "violent interference" with voters. The election commission said none of the complaints involved fraud.
Officials said it could take at least two weeks until final results are announced for the new, four-year parliament because all the complaints have to be investigated. Preliminary results might be available in less than a week, they said.
Although violence was low on election day, the U.S. Marines said a mortar attack Friday killed an Iraqi soldier and four children playing soccer in a schoolyard that was a polling station in the western Euphrates River valley town of Parwana. Two children were injured.
The election commission did not provide any figures on how many of Iraq's 15 million voters cast ballots Thursday, but officials estimated turnout could have been as high as 70 percent.
Another 320,000 Iraqi expatriates voted abroad, a top Iraqi election official said Friday. The overseas polls were praised by monitors despite several violations being reported.
Hamida al-Hussaini, head of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, told reporters in Amman, Jordan, that the highest polling was in Iran, where 59,000 people voted from Tuesday through Thursday.
Jordanian authorities arrested 34 Iraqis for trying to vote twice.
The commission said it had received 178 election complaints so far, and spokesman Ezzeddin al-Mohamady said 35 of them charged "violent interference" from the police, army or election workers.
He said most of the rest, 101, were related to campaigning violations such as using religious symbols in campaign ads.
"Until now, we have not received any complaints about fraud," al-Mohamady said.
Western officials in Baghdad said they had heard reports of numerous voting irregularities in the north and south, most of them dealing with intimidation of voters.
Al-Mohamady confirmed that "there have been some violations in Kirkuk," a northern city claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen.
"There were shortages (of ballots) in some stations. Some voters rolls, maybe, were missing some names. This did not only happen in the Arab area, but in different parts of Kirkuk. This has been fixed and the shortages were taken care of," he said. "There were some attacks on some observers who were at some stations."
In Mosul, capital of the predominantly Sunni Arab province of Nineveh, an official with the Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party charged that Kurdish soldiers voted twice in at least one location. Honayn al-Qado also said there were many names missing from voters rolls.
A Mosul official with President Jalal Talabani's Kurdish Democratic Party claimed Sunni Arabs tried to pressure people to vote for their alliance. Abdel Ghani Botani also alleged that thousands of Kurds were missing from voters rolls.
The head of Iraq's largest Sunni Arab slate, the Iraqi Accordance Front, predicted the governing Shiite United Iraqi Alliance would not retain its slim parliamentary majority. Adnan al-Dulaimi said his group, the Kurdish Alliance and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's secular ticket would gain strength and might be able to form a governing coalition.
But with Shiite Arabs making up 60 percent of Iraq's 27 million people, the Shiite alliance is expected to win the largest bloc in the 275-member parliament and have the first crack at trying to form a government.
"We believe that these elections will lead to forming a balanced government of all parts of the Iraqi people and it will not be controlled by a specific group and this will lead to solving the problems," al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press.
The coalition of religious Shiite parties that dominates the current government will almost certainly need to compromise with rival factions, with widely differing views, to form a government.
Jawad al-Maliki, a legislator and senior member of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's Dawa Party, which is a part of the Shiite alliance, said there was "no doubt that initial results show that we will be the strong bloc."
But he added that a governing coalition would probably be required.
"The Kurds will be close and maybe the Sunni brothers might join," he said.
Opposition to the American military presence runs deeper among Sunni Arabs, a minority that enjoyed a privileged position under Saddam Hussein and that provides the backbone for the insurgency.
But Sunni Arabs voted in large numbers Thursday, after boycotting the landmark Jan. 30 election for an interim legislature to protest the U.S.-led presence.
A prominent militant group said Friday the reason it did not attack polling stations was to avoid harming Sunni Arab voters.
"We knew Sunni (Arabs) would participate in this game (because) most were forced to through the oppression, torture and destruction and suffering they receive from the slaves of the Cross (the Americans) and the Shiites," the Islamic Army in Iraq said in a statement posted on an Islamic Web site.
The statement could not be immediately verified.
The strong participation by Sunnis bolstered U.S. hopes that the latest election will produce a broad-based government capable of ending the daily violence that has ravaged the country since Saddam's ouster.
The top U.S. military commander in Iraq said he will make recommendations in the next few weeks about additional troop withdrawals, and he expects troop levels to drop back to the past average of 138,000 by February.
Gen. George Casey told Pentagon reporters in a videoconference that Iraq's military should be able to largely take the lead in the country's defense by next fall. Iraqi police forces, though, may not be ready until 2007.
Al-Dulaimi said Sunni Arab participation in the election could have been even higher if there were more polling centers in key Sunni areas.
An election commission spokesman, Farid Ayar, said officials opened only 167 of the planned 207 voting stations in Anbar province because of security concerns. Anbar includes Ramadi and Fallujah.
In Fallujah, the former insurgent bastion seized by U.S. troops in November 2004, 11 of the city's 35 polling stations did not receive ballot boxes, while some sites ran out of ballots in the morning, its mayor said. But he attributed the lack of ballot boxes to the large turnout.
There were early indications that Shiite tickets did well in southern areas where the religious group is dominant.
Many groups were releasing what they described as preliminary results, none of which could be independently confirmed. They released similar figures after the Jan. 30 election, many of which later were proven inaccurate.
The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance claimed results it had collated from predominantly Shiite provinces in southern Iraq and in Baghdad indicated it had received at least two-thirds of the vote in those areas.
In Mosul, alliance representative Hameed Shabaky said indications were that his governing party finished fourth in the region behind the Sunni coalition, the Kurds and Allawi, a secular Shiite.
One coalition member, Bulgaria, began withdrawing its 400-soldier infantry battalion from Iraq on Friday, citing the completion of the election. Thirteen Bulgarian soldiers and six civilians have been killed here since August 2003.