Thursday, December 15, 2005

Iraq Border Chief Denies Forged Ballots Seized

The head of Iraq's border guards denied police reports on Wednesday that a tanker truck stuffed with thousands of forged ballot papers had been seized crossing into Iraq from Iran before Thursday's elections. "This is all a lie," said Lieutenant General Ahmed al-Khafaji, the chief of the U.S.-trained force which has responsibility for all Iraq's borders.
An Iraqi woman, casts her ballot with her right index finger covered in purple ink
"I heard this yesterday and I checked all the border crossings right away. The borders are all closed anyway," he told reporters. Iraq's frontiers are closed for the period of the election. "I contacted all the border crossing points and there was no report of any such incident," Khafaji said. Interior Minister Bayan Jabor also denied the reports, which the New York Times ran prominently, quoting a single unnamed Interior Ministry source, and said it was an attempt to discredit the election process. The Times story said a tanker packed with partly filled-in ballots had been stopped by border police at the town of Badra, east of Baghdad, after entering from Iran. The driver had told the border police that three other tankers had entered Iraq at other crossings with forged ballots, the unnamed source told the Times. Khafaji said that when he established the reports were false he tracked the source of the rumor, and said it appeared to have come from the Defense Ministry's intelligence unit. The ministry denied any involvement. The reports had raised concerns that Shi'ite Iran, which has close links with two powerful Islamist Shi'ite parties in the Iraqi government, was attempting to influence the election. The United States has repeatedly expressed concern about Iranian attempts to gain influence. U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad on Tuesday called Iran a "predatory state." Rumors and "dirty tricks" have featured in the build-up to the election, the first for a full-term parliament since a U.S.-led invasion overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003.