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Sunnis Protest Alleged Fraud in Iraq Vote


Thousands of Sunni Arabs took to the streets in Mosul and Baghdad today to protest last week's national elections. The votes are still being counted, but Sunni political parties and some secular groups are claiming that they have proof of vote rigging and election fraud. Though non-violent, the protests added to sectarian tensions in Iraq. NPR's Jamie Tarabay is in Baghdad.

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

It was the first Friday prayers Iraqis could attend after the security lockdown for the elections. It was also the first time since the war that Iraq's Sunnis have mounted a significant protest. In Baghdad alone, tens of thousands turned up. As American Black Hawks flew overhead, men, women and children gathered, holding signs attacking the Iraqi Election Commission and banners accusing the Shiite-dominated government of being puppets of Iran.

(Soundbite of protest)

Group of Protesters: (Shouting in unison in foreign language)

TARABAY: At the rally, Sunni politicians announced their demands: a manual recount of ballots, a new round of elections in places like Baghdad where the Sunnis say the vote was rigged. They called on the United Nations to investigate their complaints. The UN has already said the election met international standards and doesn't think a recount is necessary.

(Soundbite of protest)

TARABAY: For the Sunnis, the realization that they are truly a minority in Iraq has yet to sink in. So many believed they'd win more seats than early election results showed. Some even believed they'd win outright.

(Soundbite of protest)

Group of Protesters: (Shouting in unison in foreign language)

TARABAY: Sunni political leader Tariq al-Hashemi told the crowd that if their demands were not met, the Sunnis would reconsider participating in politics.

Mr. TARIQ AL-HASHEMI (Sunni Political Leader): (Through Translator) They gave us promises this election would be fair and transparent. We doubted it from the start, but still we joined so they would not say that we only refuse and reject elections.

TARABAY: But Hashemi also called for patience, asking the crowd to forgo violence. Iraq's Sunni minority forms the backbone of the insurgency. The US hopes the Sunnis will agree to form a coalition with the Shiites to curb fears of the civil war. But a coalition between the two groups is complicated by the reaction to the election results.

Sheik HAMID EL-SAIDI(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

TARABAY: At a Shiite mosque on Friday, people congratulated each other on their success at the polls. From Shiite cleric Sheik Hamid el-Saidi's point of view, the Sunnis are behaving like sore losers.

Sheik EL-SAIDI: (Foreign language spoken)

TARABAY: Saidi vows the Shiites who are still suspicious of the Sunnis after decades of oppression under Saddam Hussein will never be threatened or degraded again. The men shout in reply, `No, we will not be insulted.'

Group of Men: (Shouting in unison in foreign language)

TARABAY: The refusal by the Sunnis and some secular groups to accept even the early election results is stoking fears that Sunni insurgents will again escalate attacks after a relative reduction in violence just before and after the voting. Western diplomats say complaints about the votes won't greatly change the final outcome.

(Soundbite of protest)

TARABAY: Back at the Sunni demonstration, 75-year-old Abdel Hamid Nuemi(ph) stood in the middle of the chanting crowd. A retired employee of the old Baath-run Justice Ministry, el-Nuemi(ph) was unequivocal about what would come about if the Sunnis' complaints are ignored.

Mr. ABDEL HAMID NUEMI: A jihad. A jihad. Yeah.

TARABAY: Then, as the crowd cheered, el-Nuemi lifted his hands in prayer and began to cry. Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jamie Tarabay
After reporting from Iraq for two years as NPR's Baghdad Bureau Chief, Jamie Tarabay is now embarking on a two year project reporting on America's Muslims. The coverage will take in the country's approx 6 million Muslims, of different ethnic, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and the issues facing their daily lives as Americans.