Insurgents launched fresh attacks, killing four US soldiers and four Iraqi security troops in roadside bombings, as partial returns from the historic elections show a Shiite alliance with ties to Iran rolling up a strong lead over pro-US Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
More returns from the voting for the 275-member National Assembly were expected to be announced today. They are expected to confirm a strong showing by the United Iraqi Alliance, which is endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric.
The four Americans were killed in two separate bombings on Friday night near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, the US military said today. Four Iraqi National Guardsmen died in a roadside bombing early today in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city.
A member of the Baghdad city council, Abbas Hasan Waheed, was killed today in a drive-by shooting, police said.
Meanwhile, early today an Italian journalist received a call from the mobile telephone of colleague Giuliana Sgrena, 56, who was seized by gunmen Friday near Baghdad University.
Radio journalist Barbara Schiavulli, who received the call from Sgrena’s phone, heard no voices but only Arab music playing in the background, said Cristiana Tomei, a colleague of Schiavulli’s speaking in Rome.
Also today, an Iraqi police commander said 11 of his officers were missing after their convoy was ambushed this week in a western Baghdad suburb. Insurgents killed five policemen and an Iraqi National Guard major in the Thursday attack.
In the northern city of Mosul, the bodies of three unidentified Iraqis who had been shot in the head were found on the streets of the city’s eastern sector, police said. No other details were available.
Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, has been a flashpoint for insurgent attacks and clashes with US forces since November, when a rebel uprising drove out most of the city’s police force.
The violence is continuing as election officials count ballots from Sunday’s national election – the first since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April 2003.
Early returns point to a historic shift in power from the Sunni Arab minority to the Shiites, believed to comprise about 60% of Iraq’s 26 million people. Several key figures on the Shiite ticket spent years in exile in Iran. Al-Sistani himself is Iranian-born although he has lived most of his life in Iraq.
No turnout figures have been released, but it appears that many Sunni Arabs stayed away from the polls, either out of fear of rebel reprisals or because of opposition to an election held under US-led military occupation. By contrast, Shiites and Kurds turned out in large numbers.
Adding to the uncertainty, complaints are surfacing over alleged voting irregularities mainly in Sunni areas. And some Sunni clerics are challenging the legitimacy of the parliament and government that will emerge from Sunday’s election.