In Iraq, millions of voters took part Sunday in an election to form the country’s new national assembly. It was the first contested election in Iraq in a half century. Iraqi election officials initially put the turnout at 72%. But it emerged later the actual turnout was closer to 57 percent. An estimated 8 million of the country’s 14 million eligible voters took part. In the Kurdish area, turnout was reported to be over 90 percent but in certain Sunni areas the polls never even opened. The final results are not expected for another 10 days but preliminary results could be released today. In Baghdad pollworkers began counting ballots Sunday night but needed to do so by candlelight due to ongoing electricity outages.
Although the country was in a state of lockdown, Iraqi fighters carried out about 175 attacks killing 44 people.
While turnout appeared higher than expected, journalist Robert Fisk reports that the turnout should be seen as both a victory and a tragedy. Fisk writes "For while the Shias voted in the millions with immense courage, the Sunni voice of Iraq remained silent, casting into semi-illegitimacy the national assembly." Fisk went on to report that no one he spoke to expects the resistance to end and that many fear it will grow more ferocious if the Sunnis are underrepresented in the new Shiite and Kurdish-led government. Earlier today interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi vowed to begin a "national dialogue to guarantee that the voices of all Iraqis are present in the coming government."
In Washington President Bush called the election a "resounding success." He said "The world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East."
Meanwhile former presidential candidate John Kerry questioned the election’s legitimacy. He told Tim Russert on Meet the Press "It is hard to say that something is legitimate when whole portions of the country can’t vote and doesn’t vote."
And opposition to the presence of 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq remains high throughout Iraq. A new Zogby poll shows that 82 percent of Sunni and 69 percent of Shiites now favor U.S. forces withdrawing either immediately or after an elected government is in place.
Patrick Cockburn of the Independent reported from Baghdad that several Iraqis interviewed said that they saw the election like a movie directed by the Americans to impress the outside world. One unemployed carpenter said, "It is like a film. Whatever happens it is the Americans who will control the next government."
The election took place under extraordinary security provisions. The country’s borders were shut down. A dusk-to-dawn curfew was in effect. Motor vehicle traffic was mostly banned. Many candidates never even publicly announced their candidacy out of fear.
Election day also turned out to be the deadliest day to date for Britain since the start of the Iraq war. Up to 15 British troops died when a cargo airplane crashed north of Baghdad Sunday. The cause of the crash is unknown but the Independent of London reports there was speculation that a surface-to-air missile brought down the aircraft. Earlier today the militant group Ansar al-Islam claimed it shot down the plane.
In other news from Iraq, new figures compiled by the Iraqi government show that since July of last year US forces and their Iraqi counterparts have been responsible for the majority of the civilians killed in Iraq. According to Iraq’s Ministry of Health, just under 3,300 civilians were killed between July of last year and the new year. Of those killed, just over 2,000 were killed by the US-led coalition and Iraqi forces. About 1,200 were killed in attacks carried out by Iraqi fighters. Update: The source of this news report, the BBC, has since issued a clarification that it had misintrepatated the data and that such a conclusion can not be reached. Read BBC apology]
And a new audit has found the US government cannot account for $9 billion that it purportedly transferred to Iraqi governmental ministries. The audit determined there was no way to verify that the money was spent on financing humanitarian aid or reconstruction.
In other news, four of the largest media corporations here in this country have asked the Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling that has blocked the companies from greatly expanding. The media companies filed the appeal on Friday, a day after the Bush administration announced it would not appeal the court ruling. Viacom (which owns CBS), General Electric (which owns NBC), News Corp. (which owns Fox) and the Tribune Company filed a joint petition with the Supreme Court with hopes that the high court would rule the Federal Communications Commission can go ahead and implement a series of sweeping media ownership rule changes that would lead to dramatic consolidation of the country’s media outlets. If the Supreme Court backs the media companies, a single company would soon be allowed to own as many as three television stations, eight radio stations, a cable operator, and a newspaper in a single city.
In other media news, the Arab nation of Qatar is considering selling off its stake in the satellite news station Al Jazeera. This comes after the U.S. has long complained to its ally in the Persian Gulf about Al Jazeera’s news coverage.
In Sudan, police and troops opened fire on a group of demonstrators Sunday killing at least 18 people. The incident occurred in Port Sudan–a city in eastern Sudan on the Red Sea. Meanwhile in New Jersey the state legislature has voted to divest the state’s pension fund investments from companies that do business with Sudan. The vote comes in response to the human rights abuses being carried out in the Darfur region.
In business news, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company Halliburton has announced it will soon stop doing business in Iran where it has operated for years despite a U.S. trade embargo. Halliburton is currently the largest private contractor in Iran. The company bypassed the trade embargo by setting up a subsidiary in the Cayman Islands to deal with Iran.
The number of prominent conservatives columnists who were quietly paid off by the Bush administration is now at least three. Salon.com is reporting Michael McManus received $10,000 to promote the Bush administration’s Community Healthy Marriage Initiative. Earlier in the month it was disclosed that both Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher were also on the government payroll.
The state of Connecticut is scheduled tonight to become the first New England state in 45 years to carry out an execution. Confessed killer Michael Ross is scheduled to die at 9 p.m. but his lawyers plan to file last-minute challenges to ask a court to determine if Ross is mentally competent.
Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold has introduced a bill to abolish the federal death penalty. Feingold noted that since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 at least 117 inmates on death row inmates were found to be innocent.