- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

BAGHDAD — Isaac Jabouri thought he had come up with a winning political strategy for Iraq’s Jan. 30 elections.

Mr. Jabouri, a Sunni Arab from one of Iraq’s largest tribes, chose a highly regarded Shi’ite leader from the same tribe for the number-two slot on his ticket, hoping to draw some votes from the country’s majority sect.

He also spoke out for Kurdish rights, hoping to win some votes from the Kurdish ethnic group that dominates northern Iraq.

But Mr. Jabouri’s exercise in inclusiveness came to naught. Kurds voted for the Kurds, Shi’ites in the hometown of his Shi’ite deputy voted almost universally for a ticket endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, and many Sunnis stayed home.

“One day before the election, I said there is no Sunni and there is no Shi’ite,” said Mr. Jabouri, leader of the Homeland Party. “But for me, that’s over.”

Although final results are not expected until tomorrow, preliminary results showed Mr. Jabouri and his party with little chance of winning any seats in the national assembly.

With the euphoria of Iraq’s historic elections fading and the latest results showing that voting was largely along sectarian and ethnic lines, Iraqis are awakening to a daunting year of politics ahead.

The biggest hurdle the transitional government will face will be to find a set of goals that all can agree on.

“It is unquestionably true that Iraq has a distance to go in terms of national reconciliation and creating a common vision for the state of Iraq,” said a Western diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The latest election figures showed the Shi’ite-led United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish list dominating the votes.

In southern provinces with Shi’ite majorities, the alliance garnered four to five times as many votes as its nearest competitors. In Kurdish provinces like Dohuk, the Kurdistan Alliance, comprising the two major Kurdish parties, won more than 95 percent of the vote.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi List coalition, which spent millions of dollars on a slick ad campaign aimed at voters across Iraq’s demographic spectrum, lags a distant third nationwide.

Organizers of an unofficial referendum among Iraqi Kurds on Jan. 30 revealed another glaring crack in the edifice of Iraq.

Nearly 99 percent of the 1.9 million Kurds who took part in the electionsl said they preferred an independent Kurdistan over a unified Iraq, said Aso Kareem, a member of the high committee of the Kurdistan Referendum Movement.

Even the winners of the election concede they are worried about the fragmentation of Iraqis along ethnic and religious lines, but hope that those tendencies will fade as the country moves toward democracy.

“It is not a very healthy sign,” said Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi, deputy to Ibrahim Jaafari, who heads the Dawa Party, one of the two main groups in the top Shi’ite alliance.

“But we’re coming out of a dictatorship. This is the first time we’re practicing democracy. It is acceptable for people to lay their trust in someone they can be sure of.”

At least among some Iraqis, there are the stirrings of a new political maturity.

“I voted for the Kurds this time,” said Ibrahim Khalil, a 29-year-old professor of French in the Kurdish city of Irbil. “But … if they don’t improve the economy, I’ll vote for someone else next time.”

Iraqis will spend the next year undergoing the painful process of figuring out what kind of country they want as they draw up a constitution that must be ratified in a national referendum by Oct. 15.

They must decide on everything from how quickly they wish to move toward a free-market economy to how aggressively they wish to prosecute crimes committed under the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein.

They also have to figure out a political system they want.

“There were people running in this election on a monarchy ticket,” said the Western diplomat. “There were plenty of people running to create an Islamic republic like Iran.”

The old Iraq may be giving way to something new, but the Western diplomat said, “There are a lot of people [who], if you say to them, ‘Iraq as I know it is gone,’ they’ll say, ‘Good riddance.’ ”

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