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    Iraqi Shiites protest local vote in tense province


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    Iraqi Shiites protest local vote in tense province Empty Iraqi Shiites protest local vote in tense province

    Post by riley_.freeman on Mon Mar 02 2009, 07:23

    Iraqi Shiites protest local vote in tense province

    The demonstrators in the Shiite enclaves of Muqdadiyah and Khalis claimed Shiites were the victims of fraud and were denied seats on the influential provincial council.

    Under heavy guard, the protesters — waving Iraqi flags and chanting "No to sectarianism" — also demanded the election commission be replaced, alleging a Sunni bias.

    The rural province holds a mix of Iraq's main sectarian and ethnic groups — Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds — and has been a flashpoint for bloodshed among them and attacks on U.S. forces and Iraqi police.

    Sunnis won 15 seats on the incoming council in the Jan. 31 elections. Kurds took six and Shiites five. A secular party won three. The current council has 20 Shiites.

    The elections were seen as a chance to extend the Sunni political voice and test the strength of main Shiite parties before national races later this year.

    The provincial councils have no direct sway over national affairs but carry wide powers over regional matters such as business deals and local security.

    A large number of Shiite voters in Diyala could not find their names on eligible voter lists at the polling centers, while displaced people who had been driven from their homes by the violence were unable to cast ballots, said Saja Qadouri, a member of the current provincial council.

    An appeals period to consider challenges to the results would end March 9 and the new councils would be seated March 24, said Faraj al-Haidari, the head of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission.

    The nationwide vote occurred without major violence, which was considered a success for the Iraqi forces who are trying to prove they can take the lead in providing security as the Americans begin to draw down.

    However, the electoral commission said ballots in more than 30 polling stations nationwide were nullified because of fraud, but that was not enough to declare the election a failure.

    In violence Sunday, a suicide bomber targeted an anti-insurgent Sunni tribal leader near Fallujah, killing the son of Sheik Khalid al-Eifan.

    The U.S. military said a Marine died Saturday in a noncombat related incident in Anbar province, raising to at least 4,253 the number of U.S. troop deaths since the war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

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