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Qaida slams poll, vows war

Baghdad, Jan. 31 (Reuters): Al Qaida vowed to pursue 'holy war' in Iraq today after failing to wreck a historic election in which millions of people flocked to the polls.

Al Qaida's affiliate in Iraq slammed the election, which was hailed around the world as a success, denouncing it as an American game.

'We in the al Qaida Organisation for Holy War in Iraq will continue the jihad until the banner of Islam flutters over Iraq,' said the statement posted on an Islamist website.

Earlier, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had urged the country's rival ethnic and religious groups to forge unity after Iraq's first multi-party election in half-a- century.

'The whole world is watching us. As we worked together yesterday to finish dictatorship, let us work together towards a bright future ' Sunnis and Shias, Muslims and Christians, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen.' But he warned in a televised speech that violence had not ended.

Allawi, a contender to be re-named Prime Minister, is keen to build popular support after a poll in which election officials estimate eight million Iraqis voted, confounding predictions many would be scared away by insurgent threats of a bloodbath. Yet while the election day onslaught of suicide bombers and mortars was less bloody than expected, Allawi was not alone in predicting more violence.

'If I were an insurgent I would be really bitterly disappointed at what happened yesterday,' said a US diplomat.

'I certainly wouldn't conclude I should surrender. I would conclude that I have to show I'm still a player,' he said.

Although Iraqis queued up enthusiastically to cast their ballots in many places yesterday, numbers appeared to be low in Sunni Arab areas where the insurgency is strongest ' highlighting the communal rifts facing a new government.

Shias, who make up about 60 per cent of Iraq's population, are widely expected to have won most votes in the election, and officials in the top Shia-led coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, have already claimed a degree of victory.

Shia leaders quickly declared they would bring the Sunni minority, dominant under Saddam, into the fold.

President George W. Bush urged Iraq's interim leadership to include Sunnis in the political process whether or not they voted.

Across much of Iraq there was a sense of accomplishment after yesterday's vote, with many people displaying index fingers stained with purple polling ink, proud to have braved insurgent threats against the first multi-party poll in 50 years.

Euro trio backs US

Iraq war opponents France, Germany and Russia today hailed elections in the country as a success and, in a sign of warming transatlantic ties, pledged to back US efforts to restore stability.

Despite their concerns over the low turnout among minority Sunnis, EU officials joined Washington in declaring the poll a success, three weeks before a February 22 summit.

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