Leading Sunni clerics declared on Wednesday that any government emerging from Iraq’s historic election would lack legitimacy because many people had boycotted a poll they said was tainted by a US-led occupation.
Iraqis defied militants’ threats and flocked to the polls on Sunday in the Shia south and Kurdish north, but many in the central Sunni Arab heartland — where the 22-month-old anti-American insurgency is strongest — stayed home.
While the Bush administration insisted the election was conducted fairly and world leaders heaped praise on Iraqi voters, Iraq’s Muslim Clerics’ Association railed against the country’s first multi-party ballot in half a century.
‘‘These elections lack legitimacy because a large segment of different sects, parties and currents ... boycotted,’’ the Sunni religious group said in a statement as the vote count proceeded.
‘‘This means the coming national Assembly and government that will emerge will not possess the legitimacy to enable them to draft the constitution or sign security or economic agreements.’’
Many Iraqis fear the election results, which are expected to be finalised early next week, could fuel the Sunni-led insurgency and foment sectarian strife.
In fresh violence on Wednesday, four Iraqis — two soldiers and two civilians — were killed in separate roadside bombings in Samarra, and saboteurs blew up part of an oil pipeline running from northern oil fields to a refinery near Baghdad.
A day of voting that witnessed a level of violence much lower than expected has lead to suggestions from Iraqi politicians and American Democrats that the time was ripe for planning an exit strategy for US troops in Iraq.
But in Washington, US officials said President George W. Bush will stress the need to stay the course in Iraq in his State of the Union address on Thursday. In a round of morning television interviews, the counselor to the President, Dan Bartlett, said Bush would not offer an exit strategy from Iraq during his address, saying that providing such timetables gave fodder for the enemy.