01/31/2005, 00.00
IRAQ
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Electoral surprises: higher turnout and people voting in Fallujah

Higher than expected turnout in Sunni areas like Fallujah and Mosul. In their first statements Shiite leaders pledge to include Sunnis in the government.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Yesterday's elections in Iraq had many surprises. The Electoral Commission had estimated that 57 per cent of registered voters would go to the polls, but today its deputy chairman, Harith Mohammed Hassan, said "the final percentage could be between 60 and 75 per cent".

Turnout was also higher than expected among Sunnis. A pre-election survey had indicated that 9 per cent would vote to elect the 275-member National assembly but, despite the lack of precise figures, witnesses say that yesterday afternoon there were many voters in polling stations in Sunni cities.

Even in Mosul, notorious for its anti-Americanism, elections officials said that "turnout was higher than we expected".

Iraq's Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib said that turnout in Fallujah, where insurgents and U.S. forces have fought a series of bloody battles, was "good".

Interviewed by Lebanon's LBC SAT TV, al-Naqib said that people went to "vote in the afternoon" after staying at home in the morning fearing attacks.

Sunni parties had demanded elections be postponed by three months to better organise but the Electoral Commission turned them down.

The Interior Minister also said in the interview that Iraqi police arrested 15 terrorists; three were foreign: a Chechen, a Sudanese and a Syrian.

At present, turnout results are available for some provinces. In Diyala (in central Iraq) 50 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballot; in Salahuddin (also in central Iraq) 60 per cent voted; in Kirkuk (At-Tamim province, northern Iraq) 60 per cent also voted.

In Baghdad, turnout varied from district to district. In Rusafa (east) the turnout was 65 per cent; in Karkh (west), it was 95 per cent.

The United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite coalition backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is expected to win.

"We should not speculate before the votes are counted, but according to our early, unofficial estimates the United Iraqi Alliance took the lion's share," said Sheikh Qasim al-Hashimi, an official with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, an Islamic party which heads the alliance.

Following their expected victory, many Shiite leaders were quick to emphasise that they planned to include the Sunni minority in the political process and the future government.

"We are looking at ways of including Sunnis," said Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, a former Oil Minister and candidate on the United Iraqi Alliance ticket. "We [want to] reassure our brothers that any step Iraq takes must include all parts of Iraq . . . No one can be left out." (LF)

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