Shiites, Kurds Win in Iraq Election, U.S.-Backed Ticket Trounced

Talks on who would get what in Iraq’s newly elected National Assembly were under way even before the final results came in, but the clergy-backed Shiites, whose winning margin was less than what they expected, may now have to compromise more than anticipated.

The U.S.-backed ticket finished a distant third, effectively limiting any chance of American influence in Iraq’s first democratically-elected government in 50 years.

With barely 50 percent of the final vote in the 275-member National Assembly, the United Iraqi Alliance will not have control over the assembly, leading to speculation it may soon form a coalition with the independence-minded Kurds who won 26 percent of the vote. A two-thirds majority is needed to control the legislature.

Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, the Shiite ticket’s leader, was meeting with political allies at his office Monday afternoon, associates said.

Al-Hakim, who lost 19 family members to Saddam Hussein’s executioners, sat and wept as he heard the results on Sunday. He later told Iraqi television of the need for cooperation with disenchanted Sunnis already alienated in postwar Iraq.

“We believe in the need for participation and will seek harmony among all segments of the Iraqi people,” he told Iraqi television.

The election results highlighted the sharp differences among Iraq’s ethnic, religious and cultural groups – many of whom fear domination not just by the Shiites, estimated at 60 percent of the population, but also by the Kurds, the most pro-American group with about 15 percent.

Seats will generally be allocated according to the percentage of votes that each ticket won. It appeared only 12 coalitions would take seats. The Shiites stand to gain up to 140 seats and the Kurds could end up with about 75.

“This is a great victory for the Iraqi people,” said Ahmad Chalabi, a former Pentagon protege and member of the Shiite ticket who is lobbying for the prime minister’s post. “We will have an assembly which is elected by the people and the government which is completely legitimate and elected by the people.”

Other leading contenders for the top post include fellow Shiites Ibrahim Jaafari, a vice president; Finance Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi; and former nuclear scientist Hussain al-Shahristani.

Abdul-Mahdi told al-Arabiya the next Iraqi government is burdened with “difficult and complicated responsibilities that require national unity and the wide support of the national assembly,” and the presidency. He said his alliance is “seeking to realize a wide national harmony in choosing” for those positions.

Sunday’s published results threw immediate focus on Iraqi leaders’ backdoor dealmaking to create a new coalition government and on efforts to lure Sunnis into the fold and away from a bloody insurgency.

Election commission officials would not say Monday when the new National Assembly was expected to meet. Competitors have two more days to lodge complaints or dispute the results announced Sunday.

Then, election official Adel al Lami said, the commission will hand the results to the current interim government, which will then decide when to formally transfer authority to the incoming National Assembly.

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, the secular Shiite chosen by the United States to lead this country for the last eight turbulent months, fared poorly – his ticket finishing a distant third behind the religious Shiites and Kurds.

Iraqi Kurds danced in the streets and waved Kurdish flags when results were announced in the oil-rich, ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk. Thousands more Kurds – a people who were gassed and forced from their homes by Saddam’s forces – turned out in Sulaimaniyah, firing weapons in the air and carrying posters of their leaders.

President Bush praised Iraqis and said America and its allies should be proud.

“I congratulate the Iraqi people for defying terrorist threats and setting their country on the path of democracy and freedom,” he said in a statement. “And I congratulate every candidate who stood for election and those who will take office once the results are certified.”

The Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance ticket received 4,075,295 votes, or about 48 percent of the total cast, officials said.

The Kurdistan Alliance, a coalition of two main Kurdish parties, finished second with 2,175,551 votes, or 26 percent. And the Iraqi List headed by Allawi stood third with 1,168,943 votes, or nearly 14 percent.

The results draw attention to the close and longtime ties between now-victorious Iraqi Shiite leaders and clerics in neighboring Iran. The Shiite ticket owes its success to the support of Iraq’s clerics, including Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Overall, national turnout was about 60 percent, the commission said – but only 2 percent of the eligible voters cast ballots in Anbar province, the Sunni insurgent stronghold that includes Ramadi and Fallujah.

Turnout was also low in the Sunni Arab provinces of Ninevah and Salaheddin, both insurgency centers.

Mohammed Bashar of the anti-American Association of Muslim Scholars said he questioned the figures because few international or U.N. monitors were present in Iraq for the vote.

“Those who boycotted the elections are more than those who took part in it,” Bashar said on Al-Jazeera television.

The National Assembly’s first task will be to elect a president and two vice presidents by a two-thirds majority. So far the only declared presidential candidate is a Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani. The three will choose a new prime minister subject to assembly approval.

© 2005 The Associated Press