- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

BAGHDAD — Sunni Arabs yesterday appeared shocked by the large turnout of Shi’ites and Kurds in Sunday’s elections, with some anxiously looking for ways to bolster their representation in the new government that will emerge from them.

But many Shi’ites, triumphant after voting in high numbers in spite of terrorist threats, had a simple message for the Sunnis who stayed home: Tough luck.

Yazin al-Jabouri, a spokesman for the Sunni-led Homeland Party, said many people in Sunni parts of the country hadn’t voted because the electoral commission had not sent enough ballot boxes and forms.

“They didn’t think people were going to vote,” he said, adding that he had sent a letter to the commission urging an extension in the balloting.

Nabeal Younis, a Sunni Arab university professor and frequent critic of the U.S. and interim governments, said he still considered the elections illegal “because it happened under the will of the United States, not because of the will of the Iraqi people.”

“But,” he said, “I have to respect the will of other people. We have to wait and see what they’re going to do after the election.”

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi called a press conference yesterday for unity among Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds.

“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,” he said. “Now is a suitable time for us to work together so that the whole world can watch the capabilities of this great country.”

A U.S. diplomat echoed that attitude, saying it was important for the winners of the elections to reach out to Sunnis.

“This is an important 20 percent of the population, with a lot of the technological elite involved in it,” said the diplomat, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity. “So it’s not a group that you can afford to alienate.”

But many in the newly triumphant Shi’ite community were in no mood yesterday for magnanimity.

“We carried our father three hours to get him to the polls,” said Muthana Jaffar al-Tamimi, 30, a grocery store clerk and art school graduate in Baghdad’s middle-class Shi’ite neighborhood of Karada.

The Sunni Arabs “could have made the process successful themselves,” he said. “They could have gotten involved, but they didn’t. We decided our destiny. They decided theirs.”

He added, “It’s their problem.”

The American diplomat said the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad had only preliminary figures on the turnout from various parts of the country.

“But we have good anecdotal information that Sunni participation was considerably lower than participation by other groups,” the diplomat said, “especially in areas that have seen a good deal of violence and where intimidation is most easily carried out — not by major military actions but by neighborhood intimidation and threats.”

The Sunni turnout was better in cities like Baqouba, which have a mixed population of Sunni and Shi’ite Arabs, he said. He attributed the low turnout in mainly Sunni cities like Tikrit to “intimidation, supplemented by boycott calls,” and the absence of any obvious Sunni party or leader.

“But please remember that they had the chance to participate and purposely excluded themselves,” the diplomat said.

The U.S. official expressed his gratitude to French diplomats, who, he said, have been reaching out to the leaders of Sunni factions.

But he had harsh words for Sunnis who have tried to cling to power through a violent insurgency rather than by participating in the democratic political process.

“They consistently don’t want to go to the ballot box; they want to get into the game at the point of a gun,” the diplomat said. “I doubt that has changed.

“They want to be at the table. They want power [but] they do not want power through the ballot box. They want power because they have a gun and they will kill you if you do not respect their authority.”

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