Shi'ite Bloc Wins Iraq Polls, Sunnis Marginalized
Feb 13, 12:24 PM (ET)
By Mariam Karouny and Alister Bull
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A Shi'ite Islamist bloc won Iraq's
first election since Saddam Hussein's overthrow,
sealing the political resurgence of the long-oppressed
majority but leaving the restive Sunni Arab minority
in the cold.
The Electoral Commission said on Sunday the Shi'ite
list, known as the United Iraqi Alliance, took more
than 47 percent of the vote. But that was less than
the bloc had predicted and leaves it six or seven
seats short of a majority in parliament.
A powerful Kurdish alliance came second with 25
percent, while a grouping led by interim Prime
Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi'ite, came third
with nearly 14 percent.
Few Sunni Arabs took part in the Jan. 30 voting, which
means the minority that has traditionally ruled modern
Iraq and held a privileged position under Saddam, a
Sunni, will have just a handful of National Assembly
seats and little political clout.
That could stoke the insurgency in Iraq which is being
fought mainly by Sunni Arab guerrillas who want to
drive out U.S.-led troops and overthrow the
The commission said 8.55 million Iraqis, or 58 percent
of registered voters, cast ballots in the Jan. 30
poll, Iraq's first multi-party election for half a
century. The number of valid votes was around 8.45
The national vote was for a 275-member National
Assembly that must agree on a president and two
vice-presidents by a two-thirds majority. Those three
officials will then agree on a prime minister and
cabinet, and their choices must be approved by a
majority in the assembly.
Sunni Arab turnout was low. Only two percent of
eligible voters in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province
cast ballots, and only 29 percent in the mainly Sunni
Salahadin province. Sunnis make up about 20 percent of
Iraq's 27 million people.
The main Sunni Arab group in the assembly will
probably be a bloc led by President Ghazi al-Yawar,
although it is set to have only around five seats. A
secular party led by Sunni elder statesmen Adnan
Pachachi looked unlikely to win any seats.
"The image of Iraq that these results suggest is not
real. That is obvious," Pachachi told Reuters.
In another sign of tensions ahead, Kurds in the
ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk erupted in
celebrations after results showed them well ahead in
the provincial vote -- an outcome that will anger
Arabs and Turkmen, who also lay claim to the city.
With no bloc gaining dominance on its own, there has
already been furious horse-trading to try to strike
The United Iraqi Alliance insists that one of its
candidates -- probably current Finance Minister Adel
Abdul Mahdi or Vice President Ibrahim Jaafari -- be
appointed prime minister.
The Kurds want their candidate, Jalal Talabani, to be
president or prime minister. Under one scenario, the
two blocs could do a deal with a Shi'ite candidate
getting the prime minister's job and Talabani the
But Allawi, who visited Kurdistan on Saturday and met
Talabani, may also try to form alliances to improve
his chances. If he can make a deal with the Kurds and
persuade some of the Shi'ite alliance to break away,
he may be able to keep his job.
Even if Sunni Arabs are largely shut out of
government, they could still potentially veto the new
Iraqi constitution due to be written this year,
causing political deadlock. One of the main tasks of
the National Assembly is to oversee the drafting of a
constitution which must be approved by a referendum.
Sunni insurgents who have relentlessly attacked U.S.
troops, Iraqi security forces and officials have also
turned their violence on Shi'ites, raising fears of
sectarian civil war.
Iraq has announced it will close its land borders from
Thursday to try to prevent a flood of foreign pilgrims
arriving for Ashura, one of the holiest events in the
Shi'ite calendar, when millions of people converge on
shrines in Iraq.
A car bomb exploded near an Iraqi security forces
checkpoint on the road between Hilla and Kerbala in a
mainly Shi'ite area south of Baghdad on Sunday,
killing at least one person.
Suicide bombers attacked pilgrims in Baghdad and
Kerbala last year, killing 171 people, and Ashura
could be a flashpoint again this year, especially if
the poll results fuel tension.
The bodies of two men who worked with Allawi's party
were found in a rebellious district of Baghdad on
Sunday, police said. In the northwest of the capital,
gunmen assassinated two senior Iraqi army officers and
their driver. The al Qaeda network in Iraq claimed
responsibility for the attack.
In the town of Baquba northeast of Baghdad, assailants
shot dead a Communist party member who was also a
In Mosul, a rocket attack on the city hall building
killed at least two people, hospital officials said.
(Additional reporting by Maher al-Thanoon in Mosul,
Sami al-Jumaili in Kerbala and Luke Baker and Waleed
Ibrahim in Baghdad)