The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Democracy hung in Iraq

Baghdad, Feb. 13 (Reuters): A Shia 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 the Shia list, known as the United Iraqi Alliance, took more than 47 per cent of the votes. 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 bagged the second position with 25 per cent, while a grouping led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shia, came third with nearly 14 per cent.

Few Sunni Arabs took part in the January 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 US-led troops and overthrow the American-backed government.

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 per cent of eligible voters in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province cast ballots, and only 29 per cent in the mainly Sunni Salahadin province. Sunnis make up about 20 per cent 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.

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 deals. The United Iraqi Alliance insists that one of its candidates be appointed Prime Minister but Allawi is expected to try to hang on by finding new allies.

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.

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