Shiites: Iraq Elections Were Fair

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Hundreds of Shiites spilled into Baghdad streets on Sunday to support their governing coalition, which took a large lead in the Dec. 15 elections and has been the target of opposition vote-rigging accusations.

Sunni Arab groups staged smaller demonstrations in the western Anbar Province city of Fallujah and in eastern Baqouba to support demands for a rerun of the parliamentary elections, which they claim were tainted by fraud.

At least 16 people were killed in violence around Iraq on Sunday.

Two mortar rounds also landed near the heavily fortified Green Zone, and a roadside bomb damaged an American tank on a highway east of Baghdad. There were no immediate reports of injuries. AP Television News footage and photos showed an Abrams battle tank in flames.

A homicide car bomber slammed into two Iraqi army vehicles in central Baghdad, killing five soldiers and wounding seven police and civilians, police Maj. Mohammed Younis said.

In the sprawling Shiite slum of Sadr City, about 1,000 demonstrators held a rally to support preliminary results showing the governing United Iraqi Alliance, a religious Shiite coalition, leading in the elections.

They also chanted slogans denouncing former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite whose party seems to have fared badly. His party has joined Sunni Arab groups complaining about the results.

The Alliance has called on Iraqis to accept the results and has been moving ahead with efforts to form a "national unity" government.

But the Shiite religious bloc also deepened the post-election turmoil by claiming that Islamic extremists and Saddam Hussein loyalists were at the forefront of those questioning the results.

In Fallujah, hundreds of demonstrators took part in a demonstration organized by the local government to protest the elections. All public offices were closed in the former insurgent stronghold.

"We decided to have a sit-in today and stop work in government offices to convey our demands for a rerun of elections," Fallujah Mayor Dhari al-Arsan said.

The Alliance, headed by the cleric Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, said preliminary results showing it with a clear lead in the elections were not the result of fraud or intimidation. It charged that many violations took place in Sunni Arab areas, and claimed that many of its opponents conspired with insurgents to alter results.

"There will be no going back and no new elections," Jawad al-Maliki, a senior Alliance official, said at a news conference. "The results must be accepted and the will of the people must be respected."

He added that the Alliance had been expecting to win more seats.

"The opponents have made it clear through their statements and warnings that they stand alongside the terrorists," he said.

He was referring to statements by senior Sunni Arab politicians, including Adnan al-Dulaimi, the head of the main Sunni Arab coalition known as the Iraqi Accordance Front, who openly thanked some insurgent groups for not attacking polling stations. It was also a reference to reports that masked militants were guarding some of them.

The acrimony demonstrated the difficulty that Iraqi parties will face in forming a government after final election results are released in early January.

Though Alliance officials said they were discussing a possible national unity government, they insist a Shiite member of their religious bloc become the new prime minister.

Sunni Arab and secular Shiite factions are demanding that an international body review the fraud complaints, warning that they may boycott the new legislature. The United Nations has rejected an outside review.

About 1,500 complaints have been lodged about the elections, including at least 35 the Iraqi election commission said could be serious enough to change the results in certain areas.

But Adel al-Lami, general director of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said an initial review of the complaints showed "they don't significantly affect the results of the vote."

In violence around Iraq on Sunday:

— A car bomb targeting a police patrol in northern Kirkuk killed an Iraqi civilian, and injured eight others — including three police officers.

— A gunbattle between police and a group in Kirkuk left one attacker dead, the city's police director said.

— Unidentified gunmen killed Salman Jadr, a bank employee in eastern Baghdad, Police Lt. Col. Hafiz Maan said, adding that the man had once reportedly been a member of Saddam's now outlawed Baath party.

— Unidentified gunmen killed a man near his house in Jbala, 40 miles south of Baghdad, police said.

— The head of the Iraqi student union in northern Mosul, Qusai Salahuldin, was found dead two days after he was kidnapped, a hospital official said.

— Three men were killed in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, when a mortar they were trying to fire exploded, police said.

— Unidentified gunmen killed a man in Baghdad's southern Dora neighborhood as he was driving his children to school, a hospital official said.

— Police Lt. Col. Fawzi Ali Uklaa was killed when a roadside bomb exploded as he was getting out of his car in eastern Mosul, Police Brig. Saied Ahmed Al-Jubori said.

— Unidentified gunmen killed a police officer in civilian clothes in southern Baghdad, a hospital official said.