Iraq's Sunni leaders reject poll as flawed and unjust

AS THE tight security surrounding Sunday's Iraqi elections began to wind down yesterday, leading Sunni clerics condemned the poll as illegitimate and said the new Iraqi National Assembly would lack any mandate to draw up a new constitution for the country.

In its first statement since the vote, the Association of Muslim Clerics said the election had little credibility "because a large portion of those people who represent many spectra have boycotted it". The association had previously urged Sunnis not to vote, but analysis of the turnout suggests a late dash to the polls in Sunni areas.

In many Sunni towns, the vote appears to have been marked as much by confusion as intimidation. Community leaders say a surge of interest in the elections brought larger-than-expected numbers to the polls but many were prevented from casting a vote by a shortage of polling stations, lack of ballot papers and concerns over security.

Iraqi election officials have acknowledged ballot shortages in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra, contributing to the low Sunni turnout. No official figure for Sunni turnout has yet been given, but the total seems certain to be less than 50 per cent.

Mishan Jabouri, leader of the Sunni-dominated Homeland Party, said he had pleaded with US embassy officials and the election commission to prepare for a last-minute surge of interest in Sunni Arab strongholds. "I said, `please try to open an election centre in Ramadi. Please, there are not enough ballots in Hawija, not enough in Beiji, not enough in Mosul'."

In one complaint filed by an official of the Homeland Party in Hawija, a violent Sunni Arab stronghold south-west of Kirkuk, voters complained ballots ran out at 11.30am and extra ballots did not arrive until 3.30pm, 90 minutes before the close of voting. Party officials say 8,000 too few ballots were delivered.

"The election commission did not distribute ballots according to needs of each centre, especially in Arab areas," wrote Mustafa Ahmed al-Tamawi, a party official in Kirkuk.

Many Sunnis appear to have been torn between outright suspicion of the election process and a desire to influence the new National Assembly.

Maisem Khalil Yacoub and her husband, Sabah al-Tayee, tried to vote in the Adhamiya neighbourhood of Baghdad, where gunfire and explosions marked the day. But after walking fruitlessly from one closed election centre to another for three hours in the Sunni area they went home without voting.

"There has been an injustice," said Ms Yacoub, a 35-year-old cemetery worker.

More than two million Kurds in northern Iraq took part in the poll and Kurdish leaders claimed that self-rule is now inevitable if not imminent. An informal referendum conducted by volunteers in parallel with the election found 95 per cent of Kurds supported independence from Baghdad. Iraqi Kurds have long pushed for independence, but Turkey, Iran and Syria - all with substantial Kurdish minorities - oppose the establishment of Kurdish state on their borders. The organisers surveyed Kurds as they emerged from polling stations across northern Iraq. The results have not been independently verified.

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