KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Two main rivals of President Hamid Karzai and a reputed warlord reviled by rights activists are likely to win seats in Afghanistan’s parliament, partial preliminary election results suggested yesterday.

With 9.6 percent of ballots counted from Kabul province, Karzai’s top challengers in last year’s presidential election – Mohammed Mohaqeq and Yunus Qanooni – had the most votes, according to results posted on the Web site of the U.N.-Afghan election board.

Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a powerful former guerrilla leader who Human Rights Watch says is implicated in rights abuses, was running fourth in the province, which includes the Afghan capital.

The results could change significantly as more votes are counted after the landmark Sept. 18 polls, in which Afghans voted for a national assembly for the first time in more than three decades as well as provincial councils.

Candidates currently leading have a good chance of winning seats in Kabul, which will have 33 representatives in the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament. Nine of those seats are reserved for women.

Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said yesterday he is resigning to return to his academic career.

Jalali, 63, scheduled a news conference for today to give his reasons for stepping down. Karzai’s chief of staff, Jawed Ludin, played down the impact of Jalali’s resignation on the government, saying “individuals come and go.”

In the partial election results released so far, Mohaqeq, a former anti-Taliban militia commander, was first with 6,375 votes, according to the Joint Electoral Management Body. Mohaqeq was third in the October 2004 presidential election.

Qanooni, who finished second to U.S.-backed Karzai last October and leads a coalition of parties opposed to the president, was second with 4,307 votes. Sayyaf had 1,295 votes.

Observers have said the presence on the ballot of warlords responsible for past bloodshed could have kept some Afghans away from the polls. Electoral officials have estimated turnout at about 55 percent, down from 70 percent in the presidential election.

Electoral officials hope to have complete provisional results from all 34 provinces by Oct. 4 and certified results by Oct. 22. As of yesterday, they had released partial provisional results from eight provinces

The government and its Western backers hope the elections will help restore stability after decades of war, but there are fears that parliament could be split along the same ethnic and tribal lines that have traditionally riven the country.

The U.S. military said yesterday that two U.S. troops were killed in separate militant attacks in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

One U.S. soldier died during a “ground assault operation” by Afghan and U.S. forces west of the southern city of Kandahar on Monday, when militants fired rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire at their vehicles, the military said in a statement.

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