WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Iraq's elections were marked by widespread intimidation and coercion by paramilitary groups, experts said Tuesday.
"This election appears to have suffered from very many problems. The reports have become overwhelming," Leslie Campbell, regional director of Middle East and North African programs at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, told a meeting at the Center for American Progress, a think tank headed by John Podesta, President Bill Clinton's former chief of staff.
Campbell said that during the first parliamentary elections under the new Iraqi constitution last Thursday, election monitors had documented "widespread intimidation by security forces affiliated with one group or another.
"Especially in the south (of Iraq), there have been many reports of coercion to vote for the 5-5-5 Shiite coalition parties," he said. "In the north, there is no doubt that Kurdish security forces exerted intense pressure."
The unexpected high results for the Shiite parties in Baghdad province had angered Sunni political parties and led them and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his supporters to suspect foul play, Campbell said.
"This climate of intense pressure by armed groups is an undeniable fact in these elections," Rand al-Rahim, executive director of the Iraq Foundation and former Iraqi representative to the United States, told the CAP meeting.