Provincial returns show heavy voter turnout
Results of the National Assembly vote are expected in a few days.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Islamic parties will be heavily represented on provincial councils across Iraq, according to final results released Friday from council races in 12 provinces that documented enthusiastic voter participation in the north and south and lower turnout in Baghdad and Sunni Muslim-populated areas.
"This is a message to all political parties to respect the Islamic identity of the people," said Jalaleddin Saghir, a preacher at a prominent mosque in Baghdad and a candidate on a Shiite Muslim-backed political list.
The partial results from the Jan. 30 elections -- which did not include figures for the 275-seat National Assembly -- were released on another day of deadly attacks by insurgents. Eleven Iraqis were killed in a massacre at a bakery shop near Baghdad, and at least 12 worshipers were killed when a car bomb exploded outside a mosque in a nearby town.
Elections officials, facing growing complaints, said results of the National Assembly vote would be available in "a few days maximum."
"The counting is in the very final stages," said Abdul-Hussein Hendawi, head of the election commission.
But the provincial council returns provided the first solid indication of voter turnout in Iraq's first free election since the 1950s. In two Kurdish-populated areas in northern Iraq, turnout reached 80 percent and 89 percent; it reached 73 percent around the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in the predominantly Shiite south. Turnout was significantly lower -- 48 percent -- in Baghdad, and dropped to 34 percent in Diyala province, east of Baghdad.
Elections officials cautioned that turnout totals for the national election could differ from the provincial elections. At most polls, voters were given two ballots -- one national, one local -- and officials said some may have turned in only one.
Islamic parties dominated the results in the southern provinces, where Shiite religious leaders have assumed growing importance since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Faring best were the mainstream Shiite religious parties that returned from exile after the U.S. invasion. They drew on infrastructure honed during years abroad and the perceived support of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most influential religious leader.
A surprisingly strong showing was also posted by a faction loyal to the father of Moqtada al-Sadr, a young Shiite cleric whose militia fought U.S. forces twice last year. Al-Sadr's father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, was assassinated in 1999.
But while Islamic parties fared well as a group, their votes were scattered among various factions, and only one -- a party of independents in Wasit province said to be backed by Moqtada al-Sadr -- won an absolute majority. Seats will be allocated on each local council in proportion to each party's votes.
The Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a formerly exiled group Shiite group, fared far better than factions of the Dawa party, a Shiite movement with deep roots in Iraq. The Supreme Council came in first in the provinces of Najaf, Karbala, Qadisiyah and Muthana. Its strongest support was in Najaf, with 37 percent of the vote, and Karbala, with 34 percent.
The al-Sadr faction, known as the Islamic Virtue Party, performed best in some of the poorest provinces, where the ministry of Sadr's father was most influential in the 1990s. It won the largest number of votes in Theqar province and polled well in Muthana, coming in second. Another group backed by Sadr won in Maysan province.
In Baghdad, candidates affiliated with the Shiite-sponsored coalition of parties will take a surprisingly strong position in the local council with 40 percent of the vote. The party of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi won 15 percent of the vote here and a faction of the al-Sadr movement took 9 percent.
About the attacks
Though attacks promised by opponents to the Jan. 30 elections failed to stop the voting, violence has continued around Iraq.
In an eastern neighborhood of Baghdad, gunmen in three cars pulled up to the Happiness Bakery early Friday morning, blocked traffic and opened fire at the store with automatic weapons. In a hail of bullets and window glass, 11 members of a family who owned and operated the bakery were killed, including a 10-year-old boy, according to police and witnesses.
Neighbors said the bakery was run by Shiites, and campaign ads for Shiite candidates were posted at the blue-tiled shop. Sunni insurgents have targeted Shiites in an attempt to inflame sectarian violence.
"Why, just why?" said a distraught bystander, Kathim Hamid, 54. "Someone is trying to start civil war in Iraq. Can't they give up and let us live in peace?"
A few hours later, near a Shiite mosque in Balad Ruz, 40 miles northeast of Baghdad, a pickup truck loaded with vegetables exploded, killing at least 12 people.
Saghir, delivering the Friday sermon at the Baratha Mosque in Baghdad, said the attacks were designed to undermine Shiite political progress. "We know they are going to reorganize their ranks and try to hit again. But whatever they do will not deter us from our march," he said in a sermon that, at times, drew impassioned cries from the crowd. "They are killers and thugs."