BAGHDAD -- Sunni and secular political parties angrily asserted yesterday that Iraq's national election was rigged, threatening to leave in shambles the delicate plan to bring the country's wary factions together in a new government.
Faced with an emerging strong victory by the religious Shi'ite group that has close ties to Iran, the minority Sunnis demanded a new election and hinted that the violence of the insurgency would be accelerated by the suspicions of fraud.
''What would we tell those whom we indirectly convinced to stop the attacks during the election period?" demanded Adnan Dulaimi, a chief of the main Sunni coalition. ''What would we tell those people who wanted to boycott and we convinced them to participate?"
The preliminary results, he said, are ''not in the interest of stability of the country."
Former prime minister Ayad Allawi, whose secular slate appeared likely to take a small, fourth-place role in the government, also questioned the results of Thursday's polling and called a meeting for today of other groups upset with the outcome.
Salah Mutlak, who headed an independent Sunni slate, said, ''I don't think there is any practical point for us for being in this National Assembly if things stay like this."
''This election is completely false. It insults democracy everywhere. Everything was based on fraud, cheating, frightening people, and using religion to frighten the people," he said. ''It is terrorism more than democracy." Mutlak said he had expected to capture 70 parliament seats, but added that he seemed likely to get fewer than 20, according to the preliminary results.
US officials continued to praise the conduct of the election, and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari downplayed the complaints in an appearance on Iraqi television last night.
The election, he said, ''should be seen as a victory for all Iraqis regardless of any doubts or skepticism."
The campaign leading to the national election was marked by assassinations of candidates and workers, attacks on party offices, and heightened violence. But the balloting itself was hailed by diverse quarters -- including President Bush -- as an overall success.
As the results emerged this week, however, the cries of fraud and ballot-rigging have surged.
With more than 95 percent of the ballot boxes counted, the coalition of conservative religious Shi'ite groups appeared poised to dominate the four-year parliament and the selection of the country's prime minister.
Electoral commission members cautioned that the results must be cross-checked, and the allegations of election violations must be settled before the results are declared final. That process might last into next month, said commission official Farid Ayar.
He said yesterday that among the 1,000 complaints received so far, about 20 were serious enough to affect the vote. The complaints included ''some forgeries, fraud, and use of force and efforts to intimidate," he told reporters.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad insisted yesterday that ''overall, from what we know so far, the election went very well."
''It's too soon to speak definitively about the results, but everyone, all the communities, participated," he said.
The United States had worked strenuously behind the scenes to try to reverse the decision of the Sunni minority leaders to boycott last January's election of an interim government. American and Iraqi officials argued that if the Sunnis are part of the government, they may help dampen the violent insurgency.
And bringing the Sunnis together with the Shi'ites and Kurds could help prevent a breakup of Iraq into warring factions, they believed.
They persuaded the Sunnis to participate in this election, but the preliminary results indicate the Sunni parties fared more poorly than expected. So, too, did secular groups such as that of Allawi and Ahmed Chalabi, who as an exiled Iraqi had helped persuade the Bush administration to go to war.
The final distribution of seats in the 275-member National Assembly will be decided by a complicated formula after the results are finalized. The formula is based on turnout and skewed to reward small parties by giving them some representation in the assembly.
But the initial calculations showed that the Shi'ite religious list had overwhelming victories in 10 of Iraq's 18 provinces, including the most populous, Baghdad. The Kurds swept the three northernmost provinces where they are based.
The Sunni vote in provinces of central Iraq was splintered between the main Sunni coalition, Dulaimi's party, and, in the central Iraqi province of Salahuddin, by a small party headed by Mishan Jaburi.
Although Allawi is a Shi'ite, his party also drew away some of the Sunni voters who oppose the Shi'ite religious slate. There was much speculation that Allawi would capitalize on dissatisfaction with the religious political leaders, but his party got only 14 percent of the votes in Baghdad.
''It looks like people preferred to vote for their ethnic or sectarian identity," Khalilzad acknowledged. ''But for Iraq to succeed, there has to be cross-sectarian and cross-ethnic cooperation. At this point, it seems sectarian and ethnic identity has played a dominant role in the vote."
Even before the voting began, Sunni leaders had already said the country's electoral system was stacked against them.
The number of parliamentary seats allocated to each province was based on numbers of registered voters rather than population, since no reliable census exists for much of the country. That short-changed Sunni regions that boycotted the January elections, said B.B. Abdul Qadir, an official with the Iraqi Islamic Party.
Overall, the four provinces with the largest Sunni populations have eight fewer seats than they should, according to Qadir's analysis, which he presented to Iraqi election officials.
Also yesterday, the United States said it could not confirm a statement from an Iraqi insurgent group alleging that it had killed an American contractor. On Monday, a group called the Islamic Army of Iraq posted a video on the Internet showing what it said was the execution a man identified in a caption as Ronald Schulz.