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Protests Over Iraqi Elections

Hundreds of Shiites spilled into Baghdad streets on Sunday to support their governing coalition, which took a large lead in the Dec. 15 elections and has been the target of opposition vote-rigging accusations.

Sunni Arab groups staged smaller demonstrations in the western Anbar city of Fallujah and in eastern Baqouba to support demands for a rerun of the parliamentary elections, which they claim were tainted by fraud.

In the sprawling Shiite slum of Sadr City, about 1,000 demonstrators held a rally to support preliminary results showing the governing United Iraqi Alliance, a religious Shiite coalition, leading in the elections. They also chanted slogans denouncing former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite whose party seems to have fared badly. His party has joined Sunni Arab groups complaining about the results.

The Alliance has called on Iraqis to accept the results and has been moving ahead with efforts to form a "national unity" government.

But the Shiite religious bloc also deepened the post-election turmoil by claiming that Islamic extremists and Saddam Hussein loyalists were at the forefront of those questioning the results.

In other developments:

  • Two U.S. soldier were killed Sunday in Baghdad, the military said. It said one soldier was serving with Task Force Baghdad and "died from wounds sustained by an improvised explosive device." The other was killed when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb. It provided no further details.
  • The U.S. military will not hand over detention facilities or individual detainees to Iraqi officials until they've demonstrated higher standards of care, a U.S. official said Sunday, two weeks after the discovery of 120 abused Iraqi prisoners.

    The Pentagon is hoping to reduce U.S. troop levels somewhat next year, but has no specific number targets, reports CBS News' Tom Foty. "We do not have a plan that specifically says 'we'll be down below 100,000 by the end of the year.' What we have is a plan to keep what we have out for the foreseeable future, and then off-ramps and on-ramps, based on conditions on the ground," said Joint Chiefs chairman Peter Pace on "Fox News Sunday."

  • Attention in Iraq in recent weeks has been focused on the trial of Saddam Hussein, reports CBS News correspondent Cami McCormick (audio).
  • Iraqi Christian families in Baghdad Sunday went to Christmas services at one of Baghdad's 50 churches. "Despite the insecurity and attacks, we are happy on Christmas," said Bassam Sami at the Syrian Catholic Church. Added a woman, "We hope that wars and terrorist acts would over so that we can live in peace and security."

    Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said detention facilities in Iraq will be transferred over time to Iraqi officials but that they must first demonstrate that detainees' human rights aren't being violated and that international law is being followed.

    "A specific timeline for doing this is difficult to project at this stage with so many variables," said Johnson, a military spokesman. "The Iraqis are committed to doing this right and will not rush to failure. The transition will be based on meeting standards, not on a timeline."

    In Fallujah, hundreds of demonstrators took part in a demonstration organized by the local government to protest the elections. All public offices were closed in the former insurgent stronghold.

    "We decided to have a sit-in today and stop work in government offices to convey our demands for a rerun of elections," Fallujah Mayor Dhari al-Arsan said.

    The Alliance, headed by the cleric Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, said preliminary results showing them with a clear lead in the elections were not the result of fraud or intimidation. They charged that many violations took place in Sunni Arab areas, and claimed that many of its opponents conspired with insurgents to alter results.

  • "There will be no going back and no new elections," Jawad al-Maliki, a senior Alliance official, said at a news conference. "The results must be accepted and the will of the people must be respected."

    He added that the Alliance had been expecting to win more seats.

    "The opponents have made it clear through their statements and warnings that they stand alongside the terrorists," he said.

    He was referring to statements by senior Sunni Arab politicians, including Adnan al-Dulaimi, the head of the main Sunni Arab coalition known as the Iraqi Accordance Front, who openly thanked some insurgent groups for not attacking polling stations. It was also a reference to reports that masked militants were guarding some of them.

    The acrimony demonstrated the difficulty that Iraqi parties will face in forming a government after final election results are released in early January.

    Though Alliance officials said they were discussing a possible national unity government, they insist a Shiite member of their religious bloc become the new prime minister.

    Sunni Arab and secular Shiite factions are demanding that an international body review the fraud complaints, warning that they may boycott the new legislature. The United Nations has rejected an outside review.

    About 1,500 complaints have been lodged about the elections, including at least 35 the Iraqi election commission said could be serious enough to change the results in certain areas.

    But Adel al-Lami, general director of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said an initial review of the complaints showed "they don't significantly affect the results of the vote."

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