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Iraqi prisoner kills eight with guard's gun

An inmate in a Baghdad prison grabbed a guard's assault rifle and opened fire, killing at least eight people and wounding three, police said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An inmate in a Baghdad prison grabbed an assault rifle from a guard Wednesday and opened fire, killing eight people, police said.

The Shiite religious bloc leading Iraq’s parliamentary elections, meanwhile, held talks with Kurdish leaders about who should get the top 12 government jobs, as thousands of Sunni Arabs and secular Shiites protested what they say was a tainted vote.

The prisoner fired indiscriminately after grabbing an AK-47, killing four guards and four inmates, said Iraqi army Brig. Gen. Jalil al-Mehamadawi. Three inmates were wounded, he said.

Guards then overtook the gunman and restrained him, he said. The prison was a Justice Ministry facility that also housed foreigners, officials said.

The U.S. military had no immediate comment.

Election protests
In another of continuing political demonstrations across the country, more than 4,000 people rallied Wednesday in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, in favor of the major Sunni Arab party, the Iraqi Accordance Front. Demonstrators carried banners say “We refuse the election forgery.”

The talks between the majority Shiites and Kurds were seen as part of an effort to force the main Sunni Arab organizations to come to the bargaining table. All groups have begun jockeying for position in the new government, and the protests are widely considered to be part of an attempt by Sunni Arabs to maximize their negotiating position.

The discussions come at a critical time for Iraq, with the United States placing high hopes on forming a broad-based coalition government that will provide the fledgling democracy with the stability and security it needs to allow American troops to begin returning home.

Sunni Arabs formed the backbone of Saddam’s government, and the Bush administration hopes to pull them away from the insurgency that has ravaged the country with daily bloodshed. The major Sunni Arab party alleges that the Dec. 15 elections were tainted by fraud.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Shiite religious coalition dominating the current government, traveled to the northern Kurdish city of Irbil for the meeting with Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region.

“We held preliminary consultations,” al-Hakim said at a joint news conference with Barzani on Tuesday. “All the details need to be studied and we need to evaluate the previous alliance and study its weaknesses and strengths. Then we will try to include the others.”

A Kurdish coalition that includes Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party and President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is now the junior partner in a government led by al-Hakim’s United Iraqi Alliance.

Final results expected within weeks
Preliminary results from the parliamentary vote have given the United Iraqi Alliance a big lead. Final results are expected early next month, but the Shiite religious bloc may win about 130 seats in the 275-member parliament — short of the 184 seats needed to avoid a coalition with other parties.

The Kurds could get about 55 seats, the main Sunni Arab groups about 50 and the secular bloc headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a Shiite, about 25.

More than 10,000 people, some carrying photos of Allawi, demonstrated in central Baghdad on Tuesday in favor of a government that would give more power to Sunni Arabs and secular Shiites. Marchers chanted “No Sunnis, no Shiites, yes for national unity!”

They are demanding that an international body review more than 1,500 complaints, warning they may boycott the new legislature. They also want new elections in some provinces, including Baghdad.

Two Sunni Arab groups and Allawi’s Iraqi National List have threatened a wave of protests and civil disobedience if fraud charges are not properly investigated.

Investigations into some complaints
But the United Nations has rejected an outside review, and al-Hakim said his bloc and the Kurds also were against it.

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq considers 35 of the complaints serious enough to change some local results. It said it began audits Tuesday of ballot boxes taken from about 7,000 polling stations in Baghdad province.

In violence Wednesday, gunmen killed a major in the former Iraqi army and a person in the car with him in eastern Baghdad, police Lt. Thair Mahmoud said. Gunmen in west Baghdad killed Interior Ministry Brig. Haider Ali Saied, a hospital official said.

Elsewhere, police in Karbala said 31 bodies had been unearthed in a mass grave discovered this week that’s believed to date back to a 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein. Officials hoped to identify the bodies through DNA testing.