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Shiites come in first, Kurds second, and Allawi third

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://reuters.myway.com/article/20050213/2005-02-13T172448Z_01_MAR329260_RTRIDST_0_NEWS-IRAQ-DC.html Shi ite Bloc Wins Iraq Polls, Sunnis Marginalized Feb 13,
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      http://reuters.myway.com/article/20050213/2005-02-13T172448Z_01_MAR329260_RTRIDST_0_NEWS-IRAQ-DC.html

      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
      American-backed government.

      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
      million.

      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.

      HORSE-TRADING

      With no bloc gaining dominance on its own, there has
      already been furious horse-trading to try to strike
      deals.

      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
      presidency.

      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
      local councillor.

      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)
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