updated 1/15/2006 9:05:35 PM ET 2006-01-16T02:05:35

Iraq’s election commission will announce results of its investigation into allegations of vote fraud on Monday, officials said, while the tribunal overseeing Saddam Hussein’s trial confirmed the chief judge has asked to resign.

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, or IECI, has worked through the 50 or so serious complaints of voter fraud lodged after the Dec. 15 election, Safwat Rashid, an official with the panel, said Sunday.

About 2,000 complaints were filed overall, but the commission said only 50 had the potential to change vote totals.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military on Sunday released some 500 prisoners cleared of ties to Iraq’s insurgency, including a pair of journalists who had been held for months, U.S. military officials said.

Majed Hameed, an Iraqi reporter for the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya network and the Reuters news agency, was released Sunday after four months in U.S. custody, and Ali al-Mashhadani, a photographer and cameraman for Reuters, was freed in the mass release from Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, Reuters reported.

Al-Mashhadani had been jailed since August.

The governing United Iraqi Alliance, a Shiite religious bloc, has a strong lead in the election, according to the IECI’s preliminary results. But it won’t win enough seats in the 275-member parliament to avoid forming a coalition with Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties.

Final election results have been delayed by Sunni Arab complaints of fraud. Although leading politicians have expressed hopes a government could be formed in February, most experts and officials agree it could take two to three months, as it did after the January 2005 elections for an interim government.

Minimal impact
Some 900 ballot boxes were checked for problems and a minority of those will be thrown out, Rashid said. He refused to say how many but noted the boxes hold only about 500 votes, meaning the overall impact would be minimal. About 70 percent of registered Iraqis voted, casting about 11 million votes nationwide.

The commission hasn’t worked through the other 1,930 or so complaints, another elections official said. Those less serious charges wouldn’t change any vote totals but could result in fines, he said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

The international team assessing the IECI’s handling of the voting process also said it would release its final report on Thursday. The IECI is expected to release uncertified final results shortly after that, perhaps as soon as this coming weekend.

“The work of the team has been going fast, so we decided there is no need for a preliminary report,” Mazin Shuaib of the International Mission for Iraqi Elections said.

More complaints could be lodged after that, and it could take up to two weeks to study those complaints. Certified final results would then be announced — likely sometime in early February — opening the way for negotiations in earnest over a coalition government.

The tribunal overseeing the Saddam case said Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin submitted his resignation for “personal reasons” and not because of government pressure. It said the trial of Saddam and seven co-defendants would reconvene Jan. 24 as scheduled despite the uncertainties surrounding Amin.

Saddam judge resigns
Amin submitted his resignation after becoming fed up with criticism that he had let the proceedings against the ousted leader spin out of control, a court official told AP on Saturday.

A member of the five-judge panel headed by Amin told The Associated Press that the tribunal was still considering whether to appoint another judge to take Amin’s place. He said officials had asked Amin to reconsider.

Saddam has often grabbed the spotlight during the nearly 3-month-old trial. He has railed at Amin, refused to show up at one session, claimed he was tortured and openly prayed in court when the judge would not allow a recess.

The former leader and his co-defendants are charged in the deaths of more than 140 Shiite Muslims from the town of Dujail who were killed in retaliation for a 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam. Conviction could bring a sentence of death by hanging.

A new judge could be appointed
The chief prosecutor in Saddam’s trial, Jaafar al-Mousawi, told AP that if Amin’s resignation is accepted another judge on the panel would replace him as chief and another judge would be appointed to the panel.

Amin would be the second judge to step down in the case. Another member of the panel removed himself in late November because one of the co-defendants may have been involved in the execution of his brother. That judge was replaced.

Since the trial opened on Oct. 19, two defense lawyers also have been assassinated and a third has fled the country.

Brig. Gen. Donald Alson said Sunday that a recent spike in attacks in Iraq showed that al-Qaida and other terrorists still have the capability to surge, but they were growing more desperate.

“A government is about to form which will be the permanent government for Iraq,” Alston said. “That is putting great political pressure on those who want to see democracy fail.”

Marine killed
A Marine was found dead on Saturday from an apparent non-hostile gunshot wound aboard Forward Operating Base Haditha Dam, the military said. At least 2,216 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Also Sunday, An Al-Arabiya reporter, Jawad Kazem, handed Kimmitt a petition signed by Dubai-based reporters asking the U.S. to release two journalists still held in Iraq — Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, an Iraqi cameraman working for CBS News, and Samir Mohammed Noor, a freelance cameraman for Reuters. Kazem uses a wheelchair after being paralyzed in a kidnapping attempt in Baghdad.

Reuters and Al-Arabiya have said Hameed’s arrest appears connected to footage found on his camera by U.S. troops. U.S. officials did not give an official explanation for his detention.

U.S. forces at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, also still hold Sami Muhyideen al-Haj, a 35-year-old Sudanese national and assistant cameraman for Al-Jazeera, after he was detained in 2001 by Pakistani forces while trying to enter Afghanistan.

In international developments, Turkey’s state minister Kursad Tuzmen warned Iraq on Sunday that Turkish companies would suspend exports of oil products such as gasoline, natural gas and jet fuel on Jan. 21 if Iraq does not pay a debt of over $1 billion.

In other news, according to police:

  • Gunmen in Baghdad killed five civilians, two police and a former Iraqi army officer in separate incidents.
  • Three bodies were found at a sewage plant in southeastern Baghdad.
  • The body of a criminal intelligence officer who was abducted Saturday was found in Basra.
  • The bodies of a police brigadier and his body guard were found on a highway between Kirkuk and Beiji.

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