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Iraq: Shi'a Parties Will Dominate, But What Will Be State Of Play After Vote?

There's little doubt that Shi'a political and religious parties will do well in the 30 January elections for a new Iraqi National Assembly. However, it is difficult to predict which candidate list will win the most votes and which political groupings will dominate.

Prague, 27 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Shi'a parties are expected to dominate the 30 January general elections, while former emigres will continue to play a leading role in the country's political scene after the vote.

Many experts predict that the candidate list of the United Iraqi Alliance, backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, will garner the most votes. The United Iraqi Alliance includes candidates from the two largest Shi'a political parties in Iraq -- the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Da'wah Party. The United Iraqi Alliance is headed by former exile and SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

The Iraqi List, led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, is also expected to do quite well and has recently been gathering steam.

Today, in the holy Shi'a city of Al-Najaf, Adnan Ajeel, a candidate on the United Iraqi Alliance, said he believes the elections will help Iraqis improve the political and security situation in the country.

"We are optimistic because the Iraqi people -- especially those in Al-Najaf -- are united in one stand. We all think that the elections are the only way to end the crisis of the Iraqi people. I think that most Iraqis will follow the religious authorities. There are no security worries. Security is stable, and we are prepared for the elections," Ajeel says.
"I think Allawi will perform very well. He has some prominent Sunnis on his list. He will perform well because of the protest vote against terrorism, and he will be getting the mantle of the strong man who will stop the terrorists."

Yahia Said is a researcher specializing in Iraq and other transition nations at the London School of Economics. He believes the vote will not produce an outright victor.

"I think there will be no clear winner. The United Iraqi Alliance will most likely be the largest group in parliament, though by no means will it have the majority of the seats," Said says.

Said says the United Iraqi Alliance will have to look for allies in the assembly. He says Allawi's Iraqi List is likely to be one such partner. Allawi, a former exile and secular Shi'a, heads the Iraqi National Accord party.

Said believes Allawi's party will be supported not only by Shi'a but also by secular Sunnis.

"I think Allawi will perform very well. He has some prominent Sunnis on his list. He will perform well because of the protest vote against terrorism, and he will be getting the mantle of the strong man who will stop the terrorists,"
Said says.

Said says the Shi'a are split and that many secular Shi'a will not vote for religious parties.

Most Iraqi Sunni parties have said they will boycott the elections, but Julian Lindley-French, a Geneva-based security analyst, says Sunnis will be represented in the new government. However, he says it will take a long process of bargaining to get them in.

He believes Sunni politicians will probably demand a high price for their presence in the new government since it is radical members of their community who are leading the anti-American resistance in the country.

Meanwhile, French says, the most important developments in the country are likely to happen in Kurdistan after the elections, no matter what political party wins a majority of seats in the National Assembly.

"It would be interesting to see what the Kurds do, whether after these elections are over -- which will be boycotted to a significant degree by the Sunni community -- whether the Kurds are prepared to work with the new regime," French says.

The Kurdish-administered area of northern Iraq has been self-governing since it fell out of Saddam Hussein's control after the 1991 Gulf War. The area is now under a joint administration created by the two largest Kurdish factions -- the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). There is no doubt these parties will get the majority of votes in the region and will press hard for defining Iraq's federal system when a new constitution is written later this year.

The writing of the constitution is to be overseen by the new National Assembly, which will also choose Iraq's next interim government.

French believes the stability of the entire country depends on what the Kurdish politicians choose to do -- whether they decide to join the Shi'a or, if they feel their autonomy is endangered, choose to join with Sunnis on the National Assembly.

French says that, although the Shi'a were repressed for many years, they want to extend their control over the entire country and seek a centralized state.

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