AFP: Thousands of Sunni Arabs took to the streets in Iraq after Friday prayers, calling for the December 15 general election to be invalidated and for the holding of new polls. by Mohammed Hasni
BAGHDAD, Dec 23 (AFP) – Thousands of Sunni Arabs took to the streets in Iraq after Friday prayers, calling for the December 15 general election to be invalidated and for the holding of new polls.
The demonstrations were called by the National Concord Front, the main Sunni electoral alliance made up of three major parties. They took place in western Baghdad, in Sammara, just north of the capital, and in the northern cities of Tikrit and Mosul, AFP correspondents said.
Some 35 parties, including the National Concord Front, have claimed the elections were flawed by ballot-rigging and have demanded a fresh vote, threatening otherwise to boycott the new parliament.
“Yes to true representation in the parliament and no to falsified representation,” read some banners carried by Baghdad demonstrators.
“We call for the replacement of the electoral commission and new elections,” said another. A third demanded that “Iran stand aside so that Baghdad could be free.”
Many Sunnis believe that Iran, a Shiite religious state, influenced the outcome of the elections to assist two major conservative Shiite groups — outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari’s Dawa party and Abdel Aziz Hakim’s Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
“I swear by God Jaafari isn’t an Arab,” demonstrators chanted.
According to early election results, the conservative Shiites will have a near majority in parliament.
The subject of Iranian interference was the main theme of the demonstration in Sammara.
“The electoral commission sold Iraq to Iran for free, because it is run by people in the pay of Tehran, even if they pretend to be impartial or honest,” said Sheikh Mahmud al-Abbas, a Front candidate.
“Yes, yes to Islam, no, no, to sham democracy,” shouted the demonstrators gathered in the centre of the predominantly Sunni
Results of the elections were received differently by the various mosques around the country. A Sunni imam in Baghdad
called them “rigged”, while cleric in the Shiite holy city of Najaf described them as the expression of popular will.
“The people of Iraq want a national government uniting all of its various elements, but they were surprised by the falsification of the election results,” said Sheikh Mahdi Sumaiday in the Sunni mosque of Al-Qura in Baghdad.
He warned that “those plotting against the people run the risk of triggering an uprising,” adding that “if they are quiet for now, the people will rise up the next time.”
In contrast, an imam in the Shiite holy city of Najaf thanked the electoral commission for its work and called on it not to “bow to pressure” for a re-run of the poll.
“One must respect the will of the Iraqi people,” Hakim said for his part late Thursday.
“One has the right to contest the results, but threats (to boycott parliament) are a bad thing,” he added.
The electoral commission has received some 1,500 complaints related to the election. They included 45 to 50 so-called “red complaints” — involving for example alleged ballot-box stuffing. That could jeopardize the results from some polling stations.
Robert Ford, political counsellor at the US Embassy in Baghdad, said there was a need for the commission to hold a “thorough investigation” of complaints.
“It’s important that the election be deemed credible by all sides in Iraq,” he said.
“It’s better that the announcement be delayed and the result be more exact and credible at the end,” he added.
The electoral commission had earlier suggested that final results could be issued at the start of January.
“We’d like to see a government that brings unity to Iraq after a very positive election experience,” Ford also said. Paramount was the need to work “towards national reconciliation” and to avoid naming ministers “driven by partisan agendas”.