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Iraqi Officials Delay Announcement of Election Results


Electoral commission officials in Iraq say they will not be able to meet Thursday's deadline to announce final results from landmark elections held nine days ago.

A spokesman for the Iraqi electoral commission, Farid Ayar, says the commission has to re-examine about 300 ballot boxes, which may have been tampered with.

Mr. Ayar says he does not know how long the review process will take. But he says the commission will not be able to announce final results on Thursday, as had been expected.

It is not known where the suspect ballot boxes come from, but commission officials told reporters on Monday that gunmen in the area of Mosul in northern Iraq stole ballots and tampered with boxes on election day.

Violence-plagued Mosul, with its mix of religious and ethnic groups, has been at the epicenter of election complaints for the past week.

Sunni Arabs, Christians, Kurds, Turkmen, and others have alleged that tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people were disenfranchised because some polling centers never opened while others ran out of ballots. Some candidates charge that the votes of entire communities had to be thrown away because ballot boxes were not properly secured.

Commission officials released the last batch of partial results two days ago. The elections were held to choose seats in Iraq's new 275-member transitional assembly, 18 provincial councils and a regional parliament for the self-governing Kurdish area in the far north of the country.

With about 4.5 million votes tallied for the National Assembly race, the Shi'ite-dominated alliance backed by the country's most revered Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is leading with slightly more than two million votes.

A Kurdish slate is in second place with about one million votes. And the largely-secular slate of current Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is trailing in third place with about 620,000 votes.

Results from three provinces with large Sunni Arab populations, including Ninawa province with its capital in Mosul, have not been released. But in a sign of poor turnout overall by Sunni Arabs, returns from the predominantly-Sunni province of Salahadin showed the Shi'ite alliance of Ayatollah Sistani getting most of the 80 percent of votes counted there so far.

Leaders of the Shi'ite United Iraqi Alliance have said that they are confident they will increase their overall vote share to at least 55 percent, securing a dominant position in the new assembly and in the government the assembly is to establish.

That possibility has prompted deep fear among Sunni Arabs of being left out of the political process to draft the country's constitution. Many Sunni Arabs, who formed the core of Saddam Hussein's regime, did not vote because they either boycotted the polls or because of Sunni militant threats to kill anyone who participated.

In an interview with VOA, a senior member of the Shi'ite alliance and the current Iraqi finance minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, reiterated his group's commitment to forming an inclusive government.

"We are being very careful and we are saying with high voices that all parties should participate in drafting the constitution and participating in government and it is a joint venture for all Iraqis," he said.

But a Sunni Arab is not likely to fill the top government post.

The United Iraqi Alliance says it will demand the powerful post of prime minister in Iraq's next government. Mr. Abdul-Mahdi, the finance minister, is widely believed to have been already tapped for the job.