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BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraq braced for the announcement of final election results as authorities tightened security and Baghdad was wracked with explosions from military operations in its southern neighborhoods.

Iraqi authorities said they had sealed off three predominantly Sunni Arab provinces in anticipation of possible rebel attacks following the release of final results, expected at 1200 GMT, from the December 15 parliamentary elections.

Preliminary results have given a strong showing for the conservative Shiite alliance and their Kurdish allies, prompting calls of fraud and vote rigging from Sunni and secular political parties.

As the release of election results approached on Friday, the US military reported a number of joint US-Iraqi operations in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Dura.

Iraqi security sources reported explosions and said Iraqi police commandos were involved in an operation.

State Iraqi television said the provinces of Diyala, Salaheddin and Anbar, all the frequent sites of insurgent attacks, have been put under strict security measures.

“The provinces will be sealed off for 48 hours starting Friday morning to prevent acts of terrorism at the time of the announcement of the election results,” television said.

There were no immediate details on the measures taken, but they likely included the closing off of roads and increased security checks in towns.

Police in the western restive city of Fallujah have also announced the sealing off of their Sunni-majority town for three days, starting on Thursday.

“We do believe, based on what’s happened in the past, that on about the time the election results are released there will be another surge in violence,” US Major-General Rick Lynch told reporters Thursday.

The Iraqi electoral commission was also to announce the seat allocations for the country’s parliament for the next four years.

An international group of monitors issued a report on the elections Thursday acknowledging that there had been some fraud, but suggesting that overall there were no “significant shortcomings in the conduct of the elections”.

UN representative to Iraq Ashraf Qazi welcomed the findings and called on all parties to “take note of the recommendations provided in the assessment report for future elections”.

US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad also welcomed the report and called for the formation of a government of national unity.

“Once the final election results are announced, Iraq’s political parties and their leaders must come together to reinforce their commitment to democratic principles and national unity,” he said in a statement.

In addition to the explosions audible in the south of the city, Baghdad was rocked Friday morning by a massive bomb in the center of town targeting a passing US military convoy. Two civilians were killed while the convoy was unharmed, a security official said.

A US M1 Abrams tank caught fire in western Baghdad, but “not due to an enemy attack,” according to the US military. There were no casualties and the Iraqi fire department was investigating the cause of the fire.

A deadline set by Carroll’s kidnappers, who have threatened to execute her in 72 hours if their demands for the release of all Iraqi female detainees held by US forces was not met, was set to expire Friday night.

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraq braced for the announcement of final election results as authorities tightened security and Baghdad was wracked with explosions from military operations in its southern neighborhoods.

Iraqi authorities said they had sealed off three predominantly Sunni Arab provinces in anticipation of possible rebel attacks following the release of final results, expected at 1200 GMT, from the December 15 parliamentary elections.

Preliminary results have given a strong showing for

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the conservative Shiite alliance and their Kurdish allies, prompting calls of fraud and vote rigging from Sunni and secular political parties.

Meanwhile, Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Sunni Iraqi People’s Conference, called for the release of kidnapped US journalist Jill Carroll, who had been trying to interview him when she was kidnapped on January 7.

As the release of election results approached on Friday, the US military reported a number of joint US-Iraqi operations in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Dura.

Iraqi security sources reported explosions and said Iraqi police commandos were involved in an operation.

State Iraqi television said the provinces of Diyala, Salaheddin and Anbar, all the frequent sites of insurgent attacks, have been put under strict security measures.

“The provinces will be sealed off for 48 hours starting Friday morning to prevent acts of terrorism at the time of the announcement of the election results,” television said.

There were no immediate details on the measures taken, but they likely included the closing off of roads and increased security checks in towns.

Police in the western restive city of Fallujah have also announced the sealing off of their Sunni-majority town for three days, starting on Thursday.

“We do believe, based on what’s happened in the past, that on about the time the election results are released there will be another surge in violence,” US Major-General Rick Lynch told reporters Thursday.

The Iraqi electoral commission was also to announce the seat allocations for the country’s parliament for the next four years.

An international group of monitors issued a report on the elections Thursday acknowledging that there had been some fraud, but suggesting that overall there were no “significant shortcomings in the conduct of the elections”.

UN representative to Iraq Ashraf Qazi welcomed the findings and called on all parties to “take note of the recommendations provided in the assessment report for future elections”.

US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad also welcomed the report and called for the formation of a government of national unity.

“Once the final election results are announced, Iraq’s political parties and their leaders must come together to reinforce their commitment to democratic principles and national unity,” he said in a statement.

In addition to the explosions audible in the south of the city, Baghdad was rocked Friday morning by a massive bomb in the center of town targeting a passing US military convoy. Two civilians were killed while the convoy was unharmed, a security official said.

A US M1 Abrams tank caught fire in western Baghdad, but “not due to an enemy attack,” according to the US military. There were no casualties and the Iraqi fire department was investigating the cause of the fire.

A deadline set by Carroll’s kidnappers, who have threatened to execute her in 72 hours if their demands for the release of all Iraqi female detainees held by US forces was not met, was set to expire Friday night.

“I call on the kidnappers to release this journalist unconditionally and I shall work towards the release of Iraqi women,” Sunni leader Dulaimi told a news conference.

US forces have said they are holding eight Iraqi women, but the Iraqi justice ministry announced earlier this week that six would soon be released after a review board had examined their cases.

US forces have said they are holding eight Iraqi women, but the Iraqi justice ministry announced earlier this week that six would soon be released after a review board had examined their cases.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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