BAGHDAD, Asharq Al-Awsat and Agencies – The biggest Sunni Arab political bloc in Iraq said on Tuesday results of the Baghdad vote in last week”s national election were fraudulent and the electoral commission should order a new ballot.
"They should … immediately revise the figures," said Tariq al-Hashemi, leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, speaking a day after the commission (IECI) issued partial results which suggested the ruling Shi”ite coalition had fared very well.
"The ball is now in the court of the IECI." Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of a Sunni umbrella group which stood with Hashemi””””s party in the election under the name Iraqi Accordance Front, said: "We demand a re-run of the election in Baghdad."
The results issued by the IECI on Monday showed the Shi””””ite Islamist Alliance which forms the backbone of the current government had taken 59 percent of the vote in the capital — more than many thought likely in a city where Sunni Arab and secular parties had been expected to do well.
Hashemi and Dulaimi”s Accordance Front came a distant second with 19 percent while the broad secular coalition headed by former prime minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi”ite who had high hopes in Baghdad, took just 14 percent.
The city and its surrounding province is the key contest in the election as it will account for 59 seats of 230 allocated directly to provinces in the new 275-seat parliament — more than three times more than any other region. A further 45 seats are allocated on a national basis after the initial count.
The IECI results for Baghdad were based on a count of 89 percent of the vote. Definitive results are not expected until the end of the month. Similarly partial results for other provinces are expected later on Tuesday.
Sunni Arabs came out in force in this election after boycotting the last vote in January. Iraq”s U.S. backers say they would like to see an inclusive government which can represent the interests of all Iraq”s sects and ethnic groups.
Elsewhere, Angry Iraqis staged protests across the country on Monday after the government raised fuel prices as much as threefold in a bid to revive the economy.
Hundreds of demonstrators marched through the streets of Najaf, Kerbala, Sulaimaniya and other towns following the decision, which pushed up the price of fuel for cooking and heating as well as petrol.
The government defended the move, saying fuel was still cheap in Iraq and the hike in prices was necessary to bolster the flagging economy.
Premium gasoline rose by 200 percent while diesel jumped by the same amount. Regular gasoline rose by 150 percent and bottled household gas by 100 percent.
That meant a litre of ordinary gasoline rose from 20 Iraqi dinars –about 1.4 U.S. cents — to 50 dinars.
Iraq has the world”s third-largest known reserves of oil but decades of war, sanctions, under-investment and now widespread violence and sabotage have left it critically short of fuel.
It has to import nearly half of all its gasoline.
With the oil sector still struggling, the government is spending $6 billion a year to import oil products from other countries. It is under pressure from the World Bank to cut subsidies which keep prices down.
"Iraq is still the only country selling products at such low prices, and that is leading to people smuggling products out of Iraq into neighbouring countries," Oil Ministry spokesman Asim Jihad said, justifying the decision.
The Iraqi Oil Minister, Dr Bahr Al-Uloum, told Asharq Al-Awsat that he had no objections to the increase in oil prices but rather objected to "the methods followed and timing of the implementation of the government”s decision which should not be carried out before the New Year until after financial aid has been allocated to the impoverished Iraqi families." He added that the decision had already been approved in a cabinet meeting early October. He said, "We have set up a command center to deal with the situation. I am sure that Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari will deal with the matter calmly and practically."
Al-Uloum stated that he has "hinted at resigning from his post if the profits made by the increase in oil prices are not distributed to the poor."
The government says it hopes to raise $500 million through the price increase.
But for Iraqis, facing a daily dose of violence and high unemployment, the reforms are likely to cut deep, and are galling in a country that sits on an ocean of oil.
"The whole world is taking Iraq”s petrol for nothing while the government is raising the prices paid by the poor miserable Iraqi people," Baghdad taxi driver Saad Alwan Hussain said as he leaned out of the window of his car in central Baghdad.
Hikmat Ibrahim Abbosh, a 39-year-old print worker, said: "We woke up this morning and heard fuel prices had increased. The government wants us to be like neighbouring countries, so why don”t they provide us with the things they have so we can live the way they do?"
The cabinet agreed to the price rises in September and had intended to bring them in at the end of the year, but brought them forward to Monday — just four days after an election.
"If the government faces a deficit, it should think of other ways to remedy it and shouldn”t place another burden on our shoulders," said Hassan Jarrallah, a 40-year-old taxi driver. "I don”t know how they could do this."