BAGHDAD, Iraq — The United Nations is not seeing widespread fraud that could affect the outcome of the Iraq election, but it is still waiting for details of hundreds of complaints launched by political parties, according to senior U.N. officials.
In his first interview since Iraq's historic elections on Sunday, the top U.N. envoy to Iraq, Ad Melkert, said it was important to distinguish between individual issues by politicians and "issues of a structural nature that may impact the outcome of the elections."
"So far there is no indication that there is something of the latter kind," said Mr. Melkert, a former Dutch politician who is the special representative of the secretary-general.
Only a fraction of results from Iraq's 18 provinces have been tallied, but election observers are predicting a very close race between a coalition led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and that of Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite installed as Iraq's first prime minister after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
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U.N. INVESTIGATING FRAUD COMPLAINTS
With the stakes so high, Mr. Allawi and other political leaders have issued a steady stream of public complaints alleging voter intimidation, ballot tampering, and other forms of fraud they say have cut into their support.
Melkert said there were almost 100 lawyers supported by the U.N. who were looking into complaints that have ranged from missing names on voter registration lists to tampering with data entry at the voting centers.
The U.N. has sent teams to investigate complaints in Ninevah and Kirkuk, both of them politically sensitive areas where there have been a flurry of complaints of voter intimidation and tampering with the ballots.
"I have not to date seen a pattern of massive fraud," said a senior U.N. official who did not want to be quoted by name out of concern that the organization might be viewed as whitewashing complaints. "What I do see is that in some places, some things have happened that for the time being can be seen as relatively isolated." He said those incidents could involve dozens among a total of 50,000 voting stations.
"Because we are concerned (with every complaint), we are sending teams now already to look at the place, to look at the warehouses, to compare all the relevant data that needs to be compared," he said.
SLOW BALLOT COUNT FUELS SUSPICION
Counting the almost 12 million ballots has gone more slowly than expected, also fueling theories by many Iraqis that the vote-counting process has been tainted. Preliminary results for all the provinces are expected in the next few days.
At the heavily guarded election headquarters in Baghdad's green zone, Iraqi and international observers in a viewing gallery watch on computer screens the same results being input by dozens of the 1,000 election workers. The figures are double-checked by political parties against those recorded by their own observers at polling stations.
Despite - or perhaps because of - the safety checks, election officials this week fired six data processing employees after discovering problems with the figures being input. The move was widely reported as related to fraud, but U.N. sources speaking on condition of anonymity said it appeared to have been technical incompetence on the part of the fired election workers.
"I know (the process) is difficult because it requires patience, but I think it is worth asking for that patience because it is really a unique process that we are seeing," said Melkert.
"It is the second election for a parliamentary term, but it is the first time that it is completely in the hands of the Iraqis," he said, adding that he believed the Iraqis were capable of managing it.
(McClatchy and the Christian Science Monitor have a joint bureau in Baghdad)