Iraq Eases Security After Vote

Fusilier Manjit Nijjar of Britain's West Midlands Regiment keeps watch as a vehicle in a convoy has a tyre changed on a roadside, in the desert in southern Iraq, Saturday Dec. 17, 2005. Iraqis went to the polls Dec. 15 and the vote count continued Friday. AP

Cars and trucks returned to Iraq's roads Saturday as authorities eased tight security imposed for the parliamentary election, and the main Sunni Arab alliance said it was open to forming a governing coalition with a religious Shiite bloc.

The Shiites, who make up 60 percent of the population, are certain they'll gather a solid majority, so when the players meet around the table, they expect to have the better hand, reports CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella.

With Thursday's voting held peacefully, Iraqi officials also reopened border crossings, except on the frontier with Syria. They said the Syrian crossings would resume in a few days, but did not say why there was a delay.

There were few violent incidents reported for a third day. In four shootings, attackers killed a former Iraqi air force officer, a member of a prominent Shiite party and two policemen, authorities said.

Although no official vote figures have been released, authorities estimate just under 70 percent of Iraq's 15 million registered voters cast ballots Thursday.

The big turnout — particularly among the disaffected Sunni Arab minority that boycotted the election of a temporary legislature last January — have boosted hopes that increasing political participation may undermine the insurgency and allow U.S. troops to begin pulling out next year.

"It is a great thing that the election was violence free, contrary to many elections in the world," Adnan al-Dulaimi, a former Islamic studies professor who heads the main Sunni Arab bloc, said at a news conference.

In other developments:

  • Sheik Kerim Al-Asadi, a member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was shot to death outside his home in eastern Baghdad Saturday, police said.

  • Gunmen killed Maj. Gen. Mushriq Ibrahim Abdul Hamid, a former Iraqi air force officer, near his home in the capital's Sadiyah neighborhood, police and hospital officials said Saturday.

  • The top U.S. military commander in Iraq said Friday that he expects troop levels to drop back to what has been the average level of 138,000 by early February. Gen. George Casey told Pentagon reporters that by late next fall, the Iraqi military should be able to largely take the lead in the country's defense, with continued support from U.S. and coalition transition teams. Iraqi police forces, he said, are lagging behind that, and would be able to take charge of internal security by late next year or early 2007.

  • The House again rejected calls for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq with a vote Friday that Democrats said was politically driven and designed by Republicans to limit debate on the war. In a 279-109 vote, the GOP-controlled House approved a resolution saying the chamber is committed "to achieving victory in Iraq" and that setting an "artificial timetable" would be "fundamentally inconsistent with achieving victory."

  • Iraqi security forces caught terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the Fallujah area last year but released him because they didn't realize who he was, the deputy interior minister said in an interview broadcast Friday. "He was not armed," Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. "He was like any other citizen who was suspected. There was a simple interrogation with him and he was released."

    Al-Dulaimi's Iraqi Accordance Front is expected to significantly increase the Sunni Arab presence in the 275-member parliament, where Sunnis won only 17 seats Jan. 30.

    A day after saying he might be able to form a ruling coalition from Sunnis, secular Shiites and Kurds, Al-Dulaimi said he also would consider working with the now governing United Iraqi Alliance, a religious-based group whose supporters come from the country's Shiite majority.

    "For the sake of Iraq, there is nothing impossible. We have to forget the past and we extend our hands to everybody," he said.
    • Joel Roberts

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