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From the Associated Press





UP

Sunni Leader Open to Coalition Government


Friday December 16, 2005 10:46 PM

AP Photo BAG120

By ROBERT H. REID

Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A leading Sunni politician said Friday his party would be open to an alliance with secular Shiites and Kurds to form a coalition government to run the country once the results are in from this week's parliamentary elections.

``We will not accept the exclusion of any segment of the Iraqi people unless they themselves don't want to participate,'' said Adan al-Dulaimi, a former Islamic studies professor who heads a Sunni Arab bloc that is now expected to have power in parliament.

U.S. officials view al-Dulaimi, who heads an alliance called the Iraqi Accordance Front, as a possible intermediary who could persuade some Sunni-led insurgent groups in restive Anbar province to join the political process after boycotting previous votes.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Al-Dulaimi predicted that Shiite religious parties would be unable to form a government - even though they are widely expected to take the largest number of seats.

That would open the door to a coalition of Sunnis, secular Shiites and Kurds, al-Dulaimi said.

``We will not accept the exclusion of any segment of the Iraqi people unless they themselves don't want to participate,'' he said.

However, al-Dulaimi's prediction that the Shiites would be unable to form a government is by no means a certainty. Shiites account for about 60 percent of the country's 27 million people, and turnout in the Shiite heartland of southern and central Iraq was reported high.

Under the newly ratified constitution, the party with the biggest number of seats gets first crack at trying to form a government than can win parliament's endorsement. That is likely to be the coalition of Shiite religious parties that dominate the outgoing government.

Still, a government with strong Sunni Arab representation could help defuse the Sunni-dominated insurgency and allow the United States and its coalition partners to begin removing troops next year.

On Friday, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander, told Pentagon reporters in a video teleconference that he will make recommendations in the next few weeks about troop withdrawals from Iraq.

But Casey sought to dampen expectation that a successful election alone would end the insurgency and predicted insurgents may escalate their attacks to demonstrate they ``are still strong and a factor to be reckoned with.''

``We should not expect the insurgency to just go away because of yesterday's great success,'' Casey said. ``But we should expect it to be gradually weakened and reduced as more and more Iraqis adopt the political process and the root causes of the insurgency are addressed by the new Iraqi government and by the coalition.''

In an Internet statement Friday, the Islamic Army in Iraq, a major insurgent group, said it was responsible for the absence of widespread election violence because it wanted to avoid harming Sunni Arab voters.

``We knew Sunnis would participate in this game (because) most were forced to through the oppression, torture and destruction and suffering they receive from the slaves of the Cross (the Americans) and the Shiites,'' said the statement, which could not be immediately verified.

The statement added that the jihadist group did not believe in democracy, only God.

Also Friday, the U.S. military said Iraqi authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Mullah Halgurd Al-Khabir, the ``prime suspect'' in the August 2003 bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 people. The statement identified al-Khabir as the Baghdad area commander for the Islamic militant Ansar al-Sunnah Army, which has ties to al-Qaida in Iraq.

Before Thursday's election, Shiite religious politicians said they expected to win up to 120 seats - down 26 from their current level. The Shiites and Kurds won a disproportionate number of seats in the January ballot because so many Sunnis boycotted the election. This time, Sunnis turned out in large numbers.

Jawad al-Maliki, a prominent Shiite legislator, said there was ``no doubt that initial results show that we will be the strong bloc'' but that a coalition would probably be required - possibly with some Sunnis.

Another Shiite politician, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, said the Shiites would try to form an ``inclusive'' government even if they don't have to. He accused ``some foreign embassies'' of ``working very hard'' to manipulate the results.

Although violence was low on election day, the U.S. Marines said a mortar attack Friday killed an Iraqi soldier and four children playing soccer in a school yard that was a polling station in the western Euphrates River valley town of Parwana. Two children were injured.

About five explosions were heard in central Baghdad on Friday, one of them from a mortar shell which police said wounded three people near an Interior Ministry building.

During a press conference, election spokesman Ezzeddin al-Mohamady said authorities had received 178 election complaints so far, including 35 allegations of ``violent interference'' by police, soldiers or election workers.

He said most of the rest, 101, were related to campaigning violations such as using religious symbols in campaign ads.

``Until now, we have not received any complaints about fraud,'' al-Mohamady said.

But Nour Eddin Saeed al-Heyaly, an official of a major Sunni Arab party, claimed 80 Iraqi army soldiers - mostly Kurds - voted twice in one northern town. He also said Iraqi soldiers prevented his party's officials from entering another northern city, Tal Afar. Most soldiers in the area are Shiites or Kurds.

A Western official in Baghdad said the number of complaints was higher than in the January election and the October constitutional referendum but gave no comparative figures. The official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the irregularities were not expected to affect the outcome but were considered serious.

---

Associated Press correspondents Bassem Mroue, Mariam Fam and Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report in Baghdad.


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