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Iraq: Regional Reaction To Vote Mixes Praise With Skepticism

Iraqi expatriates vote in Tehran on 30 January Most of Iraq's neighbors and countries in its near abroad such as Russia and Central Asia are hailing yesterday's Iraqi election as a step forward toward sovereignty and democracy. However, media in these nations also warn that Iraq faces a very tough road ahead. From the Middle East to Eurasia, RFE/RL takes a look at official and media reaction to Iraq's first multi-party elections in half a century.

Prague, 31 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Shi'a neighbor Iran today hailed the Iraqi elections as a victory over insurgents that will help end the U.S.-led "occupation."

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi was quoted by the semi-official Mehr News agency as calling the election "a big transformation in the history of Iraq" that will pave the way for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Iran's media extensively covered the election. Most of Tehran's newspapers praised Iraqis for their participation. A front-page headline in the government daily "Iran" called the vote "A Demonstration of People Power in Iraq."

However, the election also coincided with the 26th anniversary of the return of former Ayatollah Khomeini from exile and the establishment of an Islamic republic in Iran. And in an editorial marking that anniversary, the hard-line Tehran daily "Jomhuri Eslami" called the poll a American show aimed at deflecting responsibility for the chaos in Iraq on to Iraqis themselves and lending legitimacy to Washington's presence in Iraq.

In neighboring Turkey, meanwhile, the elections were hailed as a step toward democracy. But Ankara also said it would closely monitor vote results in the northern city of Kirkuk, which it fears will fall under Kurdish control.
"What will be interesting to see is, will the new government demand that the occupying forces vacate Iraq, as many of the candidates were threatening to do? And, if they do ask, will the United States, and others, really go?" -- 31 January editorial in "Gulf News"

In an interview today in the "Turkish Daily News," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul warned about possible ethnic conflict in Kirkuk and criticized Iraq's Kurds for allegedly seeking to alter the country's demographic composition.

Most Istanbul and Ankara newspapers -- such as "Radikal," "Hurriyet," and Milliyet" -- today echoed previous Turkish concerns over a Shi'a and Kurd victory in Iraq.

The conservative "Milliyet" expressed concern that the Kurds will now be in a position to lobby for regional autonomy in Iraq's parliament.

Muhammad Nureddine, a Turkish expert, spoke yesterday with Radio Free Iraq.

"I think that one other basic source of Turkish concern is that Ankara views a possible Shi'a-Kurdish victory at the expense of Sunnis in Iraq as an upsetting factor of an Iraqi and regional equation to which Jordan's King Abdulah referred to as the [Shi'a crescent], in the sense that overthrowing Saddam Hussein was an overthrow of one of the columns of the Sunni Islamic regional system," Nureddine says.

In Iraq's other neighbor Jordan, a government spokeswoman expressed hope that "elections in these very difficult conditions will help achieve stability in Iraq, reflect the will of all the Iraqi people and help Iraq recover its sovereignty."

Most Arab media welcomed the elections while also expressing doubts that they could end the violence in the country.

An editorial today in "Gulf News" asked: "What will be interesting to see is, will the new government demand that the occupying forces vacate Iraq, as many of the candidates were threatening to do? And, if they do ask, will the United States, and others, really go?"

Other Arab publications expressed skepticism that the polls could bring security to Iraq.

"Syria Times" wrote: "Even high-ranking U.S. officials do not believe that this week's elections will bring security and stability to the country they occupy, for the time being at least." The paper added that unless the Bush administration takes the case once again to the United Nations and withdraws its forces from Iraq, violence will continue "destroying Iraq and endanger its sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was one of the first leaders in the region to praise the Iraqi elections as a step toward stability, democracy and prosperity for Iraqi citizens

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin called the polls "a positive event" on the road to normalizing the situation in the country.

"The conditions in which the elections in Iraq were held were very difficult, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction, it is a positive event," Putin said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said today that the most difficult task lies ahead -- that is, to ensure that the election results help stabilize the country.

Along with some Russian media, the ministry also expressed regret over low turnout among Sunni voters, which it attributed to "a failure to establish the national dialogue that the international community has called for."

In Central Asia, meanwhile, governments have so far not reacted to the vote.

Muratbek Imanaliev Kyrgyzstan, a former Kyrgyz foreign minister and currently a leader of the opposition Justice and Progress Party, spoke with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

"I think the American administration organized this election making sure that all the people [in Iraq] participated in the elections, regardless of their religious factions or ethnicity. The Kurds in particular were very active. The American administration tried by all means to have these elections in a fair and just way," Imanaliev said.

Observers say Central Asian governments will officially react to the Iraqi vote after the official announcement of the final results.


Iranian Media On The Iraqi Vote
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.