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Iraq Transition

Sunni group challenges legitimacy of Iraqi vote

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's leading Sunni Muslim political group said Wednesday that the country's new government will lack the legitimacy to draft a constitution because many Sunnis boycotted Sunday's elections.

The Association of Muslim Scholars, which is considered Iraq's highest Sunni authority, boycotted the vote.

"These elections lack legitimacy because a large part of the people representing various important spectrums -- parties and movements of heavy political weight in Iraq -- have boycotted these elections," said Mohammed Bashar al-Feidhi, a spokesman for the Sunni group.

"Therefore, the National Assembly and the government that will emerge from these elections won't have the legitimacy to write the next constitution."

Al-Feidhi said his group won't be involved in writing the constitution.

"We cannot participate in the drafting of a constitution written under occupation," he said.

In a statement, the Association of Muslim Scholars warned the United Nations and international community not to give the next Iraqi government legitimacy "as this will open the door wide for evil which the international community and United Nations will bear its consequences."

Another influential Sunni group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, also boycotted the election.

Shiite turnout appears heavy

Iraqi election officials in Baghdad haven't released official figures on election results or voter turnout.

The turnout in Shiite Muslim areas apparently was extensive. Shiites, who make up the majority of Iraq's population, were oppressed under Saddam Hussein's regime in favor of the minority Sunnis.

The Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance -- a coalition of parties backed by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric -- is expected to win a large share of seats in the transitional National Assembly chosen in the vote.

A senior U.S. diplomat acknowledged the turnout was low in Iraq's four predominantly Sunni provinces -- Anbar, Nineveh, Salaheddin and Diyala.

Election officials in Diyala province estimate voter turnout was around 40 percent. While Sunni Arabs are the majority, Shiite and Kurdish voters are believed to have voted in larger numbers in Diyala.

Many Sunni voters in Baquba -- Diyala's provincial capital that's northwest of Baghdad -- received a special exemption from the election boycott.

However, the name of the leading Sunni candidate -- the governor of Diyala province -- was left off the ballot, adding to concerns that Sunnis, who make up about 20 percent of the country's population, will be underrepresented in the 275-member National Assembly. (Timeline)

That body is to draft a new constitution and pick the country's next president and two vice presidents. The president then will select a prime minister. (Structure)

Voters also elected members of 18 provincial councils, and Kurds in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region chose a parliament.

Ballots from across Iraq continued to arrive Wednesday in Baghdad, where election officials were tallying results.

Election results won't be released until the final tally has been assessed and confirmed with local officials, said Hamdia Hussaini of the Independent Election Commission of Iraq.

Final results are expected sometime next week, but the commission could release preliminary results by this weekend, spokesman Farid Ayar said.

Other developments

  • A man believed to be a leader for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's organization was killed during a January 26 raid in northwestern Iraq that left four U.S. Marines dead, the Marines reported Wednesday. The Marines said Ali Mohammad, also known as Abdul Jalil, was the suspected leader of Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq organization in Haditha, about 120 miles northwest of Baghdad.
  • A deadly riot in one of the compounds at a prison camp in southern Iraq apparently erupted from a routine search for contraband, a U.S. military spokesman said Tuesday. U.S. troops opened fire Monday to put down the riot at Camp Bucca, military officials said. Four inmates died and six were wounded in the melee, officials said. (Full story)
  • A photo on a Web site appears to be that of an action figure and not a U.S. soldier being held hostage. A group calling itself Al Mujahedeen Brigade posted a photo of a man it claimed was a captured soldier, threatening to behead him if U.S. forces didn't release Iraqi prisoners. But Liam Cusack, marketing coordinator for Dragon Models USA, said the figure pictured on the site is believed to be Special Ops Cody, a military action figure the company manufactured in 2003. (Full story)
  • CNN's Jane Arraf and Octavia Nasr contributed to this report.

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