Iraqis March, Say Elections Were Rigged

Associated Press

Large demonstrations broke out across the country Friday to denounce parliamentary elections that protesters say were rigged in favor of the main religious Shiite coalition. Meanwhile, a lawyer for Saddam Hussein said he saw evidence that his client had been beaten.

Several hundred thousand people demonstrated after noon prayers in southern Baghdad Friday, 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 Friday prayers at Baghdad’s Umm al-Qura mosque, the headquarters of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a major Sunni clerical group, Sheik 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 demanded Thursday 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.

On Friday, 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.

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

The chief prosecutor, Jaafar al-Mousawi, told The Associated Press on Friday 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.”

Meanwhile, gunmen Friday 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 Dec. 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.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday that President Bush had authorized new cuts in U.S. combat troops in Iraq, below the 138,000 level that prevailed for most of this year. Rumsfeld did not reveal the exact size of the troop cut, but Pentagon officials have said as many as 7,000 combat troops could be leaving.

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 marginalized by the Shiite majority, which was oppressed during Saddam’s reign.

Associated Press writers Jason Straziuso, Robert Burns and Anthony Castaneda contributed to this report.

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