Iraqis demonstrate over parliamentary elections

Large demonstrations broke out across Iraq today to denounce parliamentary elections that protesters called rigged in favour of the main religious Shiite coalition.

Large demonstrations broke out across Iraq today to denounce parliamentary elections that protesters called rigged in favour of the main religious Shiite coalition.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for Saddam Hussein said he saw evidence his client had been beaten.

Several hundred thousand people demonstrated after noon prayers in southern Baghdad, many carrying banners decrying last week’s elections. Many Iraqis outside the religious Shiite coalition allege that the elections were unfair to smaller Sunni Arab and secular Shiite groups.

“We refuse the cheating and forgery in the elections,” one banner read.

During prayers at Baghdad’s Umm al-Qura mosque, the headquarters of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a major Sunni clerical group, Sheikh Mahmoud al-Sumaidaei told followers they were “living a conspiracy built on lies and forgery.”

“You have to be ready during these hard times and combat forgeries and lies for the sake of Islam,” he said.

Sunni Arab and secular Shiite factions yesterday demanded that an international body review election fraud complaints, and threatened to boycott the new legislature.

The United Nations rejected the idea.

Their demand came two days after preliminary returns indicated that the current governing group, the religious Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, was getting bigger-than-expected majorities in Baghdad, which has large numbers of Shiites and Sunnis.

Today, more than 2,000 people demonstrated in Mosul, where some accused Iran of having a hand in election fraud. About 1,000 people demonstrated in Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown.

The former leader claimed at his trial this week that he had been beaten by his American captors.

Defence lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said today that he had seen marks on his client’s body. Speaking in Amman, Jordan, Dulaimi said that he had filed a compliant yesterday with the court hearing Saddam’s case.

The chief prosecutor, Jaafar al-Mousawi, said today that he hadn’t seen a complaint but planned to visit Saddam and his seven co-defendants to review their health and “listen to their demands and supply them with everything they need.”

The US military said two soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in Baghdad today.

No other details were released.

Meanwhile, gunmen today attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint in the city of Adhaim, in religiously and ethnically mixed Diyala province, killing eight soldiers and wounding seventeen, an Iraqi army officer said on condition he not be identified for fear of reprisal.

“There were too many to count,” said Akid, a 20-year-old soldier from Diwanayah being treated for gunshot wounds to both thighs.

“They tried to kill everybody.”

Akid, who would only give his first name for fear of reprisal, said his battalion of about 600 men had already suffered over 250 desertions after a December 3 ambush in Adhaim killed 19 Iraqi soldiers.

“They gave up,” he said. “They said, ‘The hell with this.”’

In Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt outside a Shiite mosque, killing four people and wounding eight, Diyala police said.

Among the dead was a policeman guarding the mosque.

Criticisms of last week’s elections are seen by some as jockeying for position by both Sunnis and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, before negotiations on forming a new coalition government begin. No group is expected to win a majority of the legislature’s 275 seats.

The formerly dominant Sunni minority fears being marginalised by the Shiite majority, which was oppressed during Saddam’s reign.

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