- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2005

BAGHDAD — A Shi’ite alliance endorsed by the nation’s top cleric will command a narrow majority in Iraq’s new national assembly, according to final results released yesterday from the historic Jan. 30 elections.

A coalition of Kurdish parties placed second with about one-quarter of the seats and will be a crucial power broker in the 275-seat assembly, which will name a government and write a permanent constitution. Both actions require agreement by a two-thirds majority.

A secular party led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi came a disappointing third with about 15 percent of the seats, and President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer’s secular Sunni party got five seats.

Only a dozen of the 111 slates that contested the elections made their way into the assembly, and none of the others mustered enough seats to play a major role in the political horse trading that already has begun.

Sunni Muslims, who dominated government and civil life for decades under Saddam Hussein, were virtually shut out, apart from Mr. al-Yawer’s five seats and one other. Although the overall turnout topped earlier estimates of 60 percent, it was 2 percent in Sunni-dominated Anbar province, home of the insurgent-troubled cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.

Shi’ite leaders, however, quickly promised to find ways to include willing Sunnis in drafting a constitution.

“Iraqis want freedom and democracy,” said Hussein Shahrestani, a Canadian-educated nuclear scientist who played a key role in creating the winning United Iraqi Alliance.

“We are even more insistent now than before that [the government] should be an exercise of unity and participation. We need a government of national unity.”

In Washington, President Bush congratulated the Iraqi people “for defying terrorist threats and setting their country on the path of democracy and freedom. And I congratulate every candidate who stood for election and those who will take office once the results are certified.”

The Shi’ite alliance, endorsed by Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, netted a little more than 48 percent of the vote but will get 140 assembly seats. That is because ballots cast for slates that failed to get enough votes for even one seat were discounted altogether, election officials said. The results will be certified formally in three days.

Even so, alliance officials expressed disappointment.

“We were expecting more than this percentage,” said Sheik Humam Hamoody, a deputy to Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, who led the alliance list, wire agencies reported.

“Our calculations showed more than this. We expected to get 50 percent, at least that would be acceptable. But less than 50 percent?”

Some Shi’ite leaders hinted that the outcome was related to a three-day delay in the release of the results. Government officials said the announcement was held up because of fears that insurgents had tampered with some ballot boxes.

“The delay that happened made us wonder and have doubts,” Sheik Hamoody said. “We will speak to the commission and ask them how they dealt with a number of boxes in Mosul and other places they said they had problems with.”

Celebrations in Baghdad were restrained, and few Shi’ites in the streets of Khadamiyah, near one of Shi’ite Islam’s holiest shrines, were willing to even discuss the results because of a religious holiday.

It is the beginning of Muharram, a 40-day mourning period that commemorates the defeat 1,400 years ago of the Imam Hussein, considered by Shi’ites as the rightful ruler of Islam.

“Today is not about Iraq, it is about the martyrdom of the Imam Hussein,” cried one man, taking a break from flailing himself with a whip of chain links.

Ayatollah al-Sistani, who has a huge following in the Shi’ite world, had mandated participation in the elections through a fatwa, or religious edict considered the equivalent of the word of God.

In northern Iraq, the Kurdish coalition, made up of former — and sometimes deadly — rivals handily won the polling in the northern city of Kirkuk, an oil-rich region populated by an uneasy mix of Turkmen, Kurds and Arabs.

News footage showed major celebrations by the Kurds, who are intent on claiming Kirkuk as their capital, despite strong pressure from neighboring countries and the United States.

Led by Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, the Kurds are demanding the office of president or prime minister and will seek a high degree of autonomy in the new constitution.

The United Iraqi Alliance also has insisted on choosing one of its own for the post of prime minister — where real political power will lie — though it is not clear which of its faction leaders would get the nod.

Under Iraq’s interim constitution, two-thirds of the assembly must agree on a president and two vice presidents. This presidential council, in turn, will name the prime minister and a Cabinet.

That means the alliance will have to make a deal with either the Kurds or with Mr. Allawi’s group and one or two minor parties to secure the 184 assembly seats needed to name the government.

Efforts also will have to be made to find a role for the Sunnis, who make up about 20 percent of the population, if the new government hopes to end a sense of disenfranchisement that is feeding the insurgency.

“Those who boycotted the elections are more than those who took part in it,” said Mohammed Bashar, an important cleric and member of the Association of Muslim Scholars that had urged followers not to vote. “Boycotting the election does not mean that the boycotter will renounce his rights.”

Adnan Pachachi, a widely respected and secular Sunni statesman, whose ticket failed to get the about 31,000 votes necessary for an assembly seat, said the boycott had “had a big effect on the Sunnis.”

“We asked them not to boycott but they did, and now what can we do?” he said.

“After the seats are distributed, we will see a small number for Sunni Arabs and also a small number of secular Iraqis,” Mr. Pachachi said. “The image of Iraq that these results suggest is not real. That is obvious.”

Borzou Daragahi in Tehran contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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