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Iraqi Groups Pushing for Elections Review

December 29, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Sunni Arab and secular groups refused Thursday to open discussions with the Shiite religious bloc leading in Iraq’s parliamentary elections until a full review of the contested results is carried out.

Their refusal could deepen the political turmoil following a U.N. observer’s endorsement of Iraq’s Dec. 15 elections. The official said the results were credible and that the results should stand.

``We are not taking part in discussions,″ said Nasser al-Ani, a senior official in the main Sunni Arab coalition _ the Iraqi Accordance Front.

Preliminary results from the vote have given the governing Shiite religious bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, a big lead _ but one which still would require forming a coalition with other groups. Al-Ani told The Associated Press that his political group favored participating in broad-based coalition government, but would not begin contacts ``until we get a clear picture about the results of the investigation.″

Mehedi al-Hafidh, a senior member of the secular Iraqi National List headed by former Shiite Premier Ayad Allawi, raised similar concerns.

``We confirm that we are not part of this process of consultations to form a new government,″ al-Hafidh told The AP.

The Bush administration and many Iraqi officials hope the elections will lead to a broad-based government that will include minority Sunni Arabs as well as secular Shiites such as Allawi, and allow for a drawdown in U.S. and coalition forces. On Thursday, Polish President Lech Kaczynski approved extending the country’s military mission in Iraq for another year, the country’s prime minister said.

``The issue is closed and taken care of,″ Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz told all-news station TVN24.

Marcinkiewicz’s government requested Tuesday that Kaczynski reverse plans by the previous government to bring home troops serving with the U.S.-led coalition in early 2006.

The U.N. endorsement came on Wednesday after opposition groups demanded international intervention and an independent review of more than 1,500 complaints about irregularities.

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq renewed an invitation Thursday for international organizations and local political representatives to review the Dec. 15 poll. An official for the commission, Safwat Rashid, said they could ``evaluate what happened during the elections and what’s going on now. We are highly confident that we did our job properly and we have nothing to hide.″

In violence Thursday, gunmen killed 12 members of an extended Shiite family near Latifiyah, a Sunni Arab-dominated town about 20 miles south of Baghdad. Police Capt. Hussein Shamil said the men were taken from their homes, packed into a minivan and shot. No further details were available.

A suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt on a street near the Interior Ministry, killing one police officer and wounding four, police said. Gunmen in Baghdad assassinated an Iraqi driver working with a French company, police Capt. Qassem Hussein said, adding that a university student in northwestern Baghdad was killed in a drive-by shooting.

U.S. airstrikes launched by two F-16 fighter jets in Kirkuk province killed 10 insurgents on Tuesday, the military said Thursday.

The military said the pilots saw three men planting roadside bombs. The pilots killed the three and seven others with them after dropping two 500-pound, laser guided bombs, the military said.

Also Thursday, a spokesman for Iraq’s oil ministry said the country’s largest oil refinery had suspended operations after insurgents threatened to kill drivers and blow up trucks that distribute its oil products across Iraq.

The 140,000 barrel-a-day refinery in the northern town of Beiji, about 155 miles north of Baghdad, suspended production Dec. 24 ``because drivers of trucks have received death threats from terrorists,″ Assem Jihad told Dow Jones Newswires.

The United Nations official, Craig Jenness, said his U.N.-led international election assistance team found the elections to be fair, remarks that represented crucial support for Iraqi election commission officials, who refused opposition demands to step down. They have said they had found some instances of fraud that were enough to cancel the results in some places but not to hold another vote in any district.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, a prominent Sunni candidate who has joined forces with Allawi to protest what they have described as rampant fraud, said he was angered by Jenness’ remarks.

He said without elaboration that the U.N. should ``check our complaints and then express its views.″

Allawi said the election commission should also take into account political violence before the vote.

``There were assassinations. We had numbers of people on my slate who had been killed, shot and killed, and supporters who have been killed. There were attempts to assassinate others, and they were badly injured,″ Allawi told CNN.

Also Thursday, gunmen kidnapped a Lebanese engineer in Iraq, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said. The ministry’s statement gave no other details on the disappearance of Camile Nassif Tannous, who works for the Schneider engineering firm.

Militants have kidnapped more than 240 foreigners and killed at least 39 of them during the past two years.

On Wednesday, militants released a video of a French engineer kidnapped in Iraq three weeks ago. Insurgents are also holding four Christian humanitarian workers _ two Canadians, a Briton and an American.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called Thursday for the immediate release of the engineer, Bernard Planche, emphasizing that France has no military presence there.

Militants who released the video of Planche denounced the ``illegal French presence″ in the country, the news channel Al-Arabiya reported. The video did not include any threats, demands or deadlines.

___

Associated Press reporters Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report from Baghdad.

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