Sunday, December 25, 2005

Bombs, protests as Iraq election sours

By Alastair Macdonald1 hour, 36 minutes ago

At least five Iraqis and a U.S. soldier were killed in violence in Iraq on Sunday as fresh street protests over election results kept up tension that has soured the mood after a peaceful ballot 10 days ago.

In the turbulent northern city of Mosul, the killing of a Sunni Arab student leader abducted after heading a demonstration against the election results prompted accusations by mourners at his funeral against militias loyal to the victorious Shi'ite Islamists and their Kurdish allies in the interim government.

President Jalal Talabani, meeting the U.S. ambassador who is mediating in efforts to transform the newly inclusive parliament into a viable government, urged Sunni leaders to join a new, broader coalition. Otherwise there would be no peace, he warned.

Disappointed Sunni and secular parties have demanded a rerun of the December 15 election and threatened to boycott parliament, a move that could damage U.S. hopes of forging a consensus that can keep Iraq from breaking up in ethnic and sectarian warfare.

But despite militant rhetoric, seemingly aimed at increasing their leverage, Sunnis are negotiating with others to build a governing coalition on the basis of the existing poll results.

Meeting U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in his Kurdish power base of Sulaimaniya, Talabani said: "Without the Sunni parties there will be no consensus government .. without consensus government there will be no unity, there will be no peace."


After a lull during the election, secured partly by fierce security measures and partly by an informal ceasefire by Sunni rebels hoping for representation in parliament, deadly attacks have picked up. Ten Iraqi soldiers were killed in one assault on Friday as were 10 worshippers at a Shi'ite mosque.

A U.S. soldier was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack near Kirkuk on Saturday and troops marking Christmas had no respite on Sunday; an Abrams tank, the giant bulwark of American armored might, was left in flames after a dawn attack in eastern Baghdad -- witness said a roadside bomb blasted it.

A U.S. military spokesman confirmed an attack on a tank and the military said later a U.S. soldier had been killed when his vehicle was hit by an explosive device in Baghdad, though it was not immediately clear whether it was the same incident.

Two car bombs, parked by the roadside, went off around lunchtime, wounding three Iraqi soldiers and a civilian in the city center and three policemen in eastern Baghdad, police said.

Two soldiers were killed and six wounded in a mortar attack on an Iraqi base at Mahmudiya, just south of the capital.

In Kirkuk, where Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen are vying for control of the northern oilfields, a civilian was killed and seven wounded when a car bomb went off close to a police patrol.

Further north, in Mosul, Iraq's third city where ethnic tensions between Arabs and Kurds are also high, a roadside bomb killed a policeman when it detonated close to his patrol.

Al Qaeda's wing in Iraq said in an Internet posting on Sunday it had abducted and killed three Arab women and an Arab man working for U.S. authorities and the Iraqi government.

Abductions and killings of women have been rare in Iraq, where thousands of civilians have been kidnapped by insurgents or gangs seeking ransom since Saddam Hussein was ousted.

Anger flared round Mosul's university campus, one of Iraq's most distinguished, after the bullet-riddled body of the head of the student union was found on Sunday.

The body, found with the victim's hands bound behind his back, also bore marks of strangling, a hospital source said.

Gunmen had grabbed Qusay Salahaddin from his home on Thursday, two days after he had led a demonstration against the election results, and bundled him into the trunk of a car before driving off, said Mohammed Jassim, a friend of the victim.

From there, Salahaddin used his mobile phone to call for help, Jassim said, accusing Kurdish peshmerga militia: "Save me, the peshmerga have kidnapped me," Jassim quoted Salahaddin, a Sunni Arab, as saying before the line went dead.

Among some 2,000 fellow students gathered at a mosque where the body was taken, accusations quickly flew against another favored target of Sunni Arab complaint, militia forces loyal to one of the main Islamist parties in the Shi'ite Alliance bloc.

No group claimed responsibility for the killing.


Mosul -- one of two cities named by U.S. President George W. Bush before the election as a model of progress in Iraq -- has been at the forefront of complaints of voter fraud this year.

Provisional national results of the December 15 election show the Shi'ite Alliance bloc should come close to retaining its slim majority in the new legislature, despite a big turnout by Sunni Arabs who boycotted a poll in January.

That has sparked protests in recent days in Baghdad and elsewhere by Sunni and secular parties, despite assurances from U.N. and other officials that irregularities under investigation affect only an insignificant proportion of the ballot.

(Additional reporting by Nabil Nourredine in Mosul, Aref Mohammed in Kirkuk, Fadil al-Badrani in Falluja, Cyrille Cartier in Sulaimaniya and Aseel Kami in Baghdad)

Now be honest.... who among us really thought that this election was going to be the magic ticket any more than any of the other Bush touted benchmarks?

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