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Tabulation of Ballots Begins As Attacks in Iraq Continue

By John F. Burns

The New York Times -- BAGHDAD, Iraq

Teams of Iraqi election workers sat down behind banks of computers in Baghdad’s tightly guarded international zone on Monday and began tabulating millions of ballots that will determine the makeup of the country’s 275-seat transitional assembly.

Iraq’s interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, led many of the country’s leading political figures in a buoyant assessment of the elections on Sunday that saw large turnouts across many parts of the country, especially in Shiite and Kurdish areas, and surprising numbers of voters casting ballots even in Sunni areas in central and northern Iraq where a paralyzing boycott had been feared.

“The terrorists know now that they cannot win,” Allawi said in a brief appearance before reporters here. “We are entering a new era of our history, and all Iraqis, whether they voted or not, should stand side by side to build their future.”

The celebrations were jarred, however, by the deaths on Monday of three Marines south of Baghdad and a statement from the U.S. military command that American troops had killed four detainees at a detention center in southern Iraq.

The Marines were killed in combat during a security operation in Babil Province, the military said, according to Reuters, giving no further details. In an earlier statement on Monday, it reported that a Marine from the First Expeditionary Force was killed Sunday in Anbar province.

The deaths of the four detainees came during an effort by American soldiers to suppress a riot on Monday at the Camp Bucca detention center outside Basra, where the detainee population, as at Abu Ghraib prison, has been swollen by more than 2,500 arrests of suspected insurgents in the last month, part of a nationwide pre-election crackdown.

The command’s statement said the riot began when guards were searching detainee quarters for “contraband,” with detainees in four of the camp’s compounds “throwing rocks and fashioning weapons from materials inside their living areas.” Six detainees were hurt.

The command said it was investigating the cause of the riot, as was Army’s criminal investigations division, a standard procedure.

“Guards attempted to calm the increasingly volatile situation using verbal warnings and, when that failed, by use of nonlethal force,” it said. “After about 45 minutes of escalating violence, lethal force was used to quell the violence.”

In another reminder that the elections have done nothing that promises Iraqis any early relief from the insurgency, Al-Jazeera television broadcast a videotape on Monday in which one of the main Islamic militant groups, Ansar ul-Sunna, claimed to have shot down the British C-130 military transport that crashed 25 miles north of Baghdad on Sunday, killing the 10 Britons aboard.

The big questions left hanging by the elections -- those of turnout and the breakdown of seats among the parties -- remained unanswered on Monday as 200 election workers set out in three round-the-clock shifts to begin the computer tabulations of the ballots. Iraqi election officials said final figures for the turnout, which is crucial to the elections’ legitimacy in Iraq and abroad, would be announced within 48 hours, possibly on Tuesday. No final party-by-party breakdown of the vote was likely for as much as 10 days.