By HAMID AHMED
2009-02-07 08:57 PM
The allegations are among a chorus of questions raised by Shiite religious parties and Sunnis about the outcome of provincial elections, in which allies of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki won a sweeping victory.
"There are huge differences between results announced by the electoral commission and the figures we have from our observers in some provinces," said Tahir al-Kinani, spokesman for one of two candidate lists backed by al-Sadr.
Al-Kinani told reporters at a news conference that the candidates were appealing the results in the provinces of Baghdad, Najaf, Maysan and Qadisiyah.
The election results have been heralded as an endorsement of al-Maliki's crackdown on extremism and violence that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Those results, which must be certified, put al-Maliki in a strong position ahead of parliamentary elections later this year.
Sadrist-backed candidates were tied with a Sunni group for a distant second in Baghdad behind al-Maliki's coalition, according to preliminary results released Thursday.
Elsewhere, Sadrist-backed candidates finished well behind al-Maliki and the religious-backed Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which maintains ties to both Iran and the United States.
Al-Sadr, who lives in Iran, lost much of his clout last year when government forces routed his militia from strongholds in Baghdad and Basra. His movement did not field candidates under the Sadrist banner but endorsed lists of nominal independents.
Members of al-Maliki's Dawa Party issued a statement heralding the generally peaceful elections and calling on all those elected to work together.
"We call for everyone to cooperate with each other to take responsibility for the running of their the provinces," the statement said.
In the days following the elections, tension mounted in some areas where early returns leaked by political parties led to allegations of irregularities.
In Anbar province, a former Sunni insurgent stronghold west of the capital, a leader of tribesmen who turned against al-Qaida in the area complained that rival Sunnis stole the election. It's a charge they denied.
In Baghdad, al-Kinani said the al-Sadr backed candidates were demanding the electoral commission identify those involved with manipulating election results.
The election commission has pledged to investigate all allegations of voting irregularities.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because was not authorized to release the information.
Also, the U.S. military said an American soldier died of a noncombat-related injury near the northern Iraqi city of Balad Ruz. A U.S. statement released Saturday said the soldier died Friday but gave no further details.
The latest fatality brings to at least 4,238 the number of U.S. military members who have died in the Iraq war since it began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The figure includes eight military civilians killed in action. At least 3,406 military personnel died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.