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Preliminary Results Show Iraqis Voted along Ethnic Lines

The Iraqi Electoral Commission on Monday released some preliminary results from the December 15 parliamentary elections. The numbers so far show the dominant Shi'ite coalition running ahead of other parties in the election to choose Iraq's new four-year, full-time parliament.

In a broadcast on government-run TV, an Iraqi Electoral Commission official said the Shi'ite United Iraqi Alliance garnered the most votes in Baghdad in Thursday's election.

With 89 percent of the vote counted in Baghdad Province, the Alliance obtained around 58 percent of the vote. Baghdad is the country's largest electoral district with 59 seats in the 275-member parliament.

The Alliance is a coalition of Islamist and conservative Shi'ite organizations. The coalition includes the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa Party, both of which have ties to Iran. The same coalition dominates Iraq's parliament now, and with 60 percent of the country composed of Shiite Muslims, the numbers follow trends set in the previous election in January.

Preliminary results from around the country reflect the ethnic make-up of the various regions, and hold true to expectations that voters would back parties affiliated with their own religion and ethnicity.

In mixed and Shi'ite-dominated cities, the Shi'ite coalition won the majority of votes in the preliminary results. As expected, the Kurdish parties won overwhelmingly in the Kurdish north. The commission did not release any preliminary results for the Sunni-dominated Anbar province in Iraq's west, where voters turned out in far higher numbers than in the other two election days in the past year.

In a separate development in the Iraqi capital, the Associated Press reported that the Iraqi government released several high-ranking members of Saddam Hussein's regime. The released detainees include Rihab Taha, also known as Dr. Germ, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash. Both were involved in Saddam Hussein's biological weapons programs in the 1980s.

The AP quoted U.S. Lt. Colonel Barry Johnson as saying that the detainees were no longer considered a security threat, and that no charges would be filed against them.

Meanwhile, protests broke out across Iraq Monday against higher prices of gasoline, which took effect Sunday. Drivers complained on radio and TV talk shows about the prices, which rose as much as nine-fold from prices just a few days ago.

The oil ministry says the move was to stop a growing black market for gasoline fed by the cheap prices at government subsidized rates. The subsidies have been around since before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.