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Iraqi Political Talks Begin As Shi'ite Win Confirmed

A voter at the polls in southern Iraq on 30 January 14 February 2005 -- The Iraqi electoral body that supervised the country's landmark balloting on 30 January announced yesterday that a Shi'ite-dominated ticket won nearly half the vote, followed by a Kurdish alliance at more than one-quarter of all ballots.

Candidates allied with the U.S.-backed interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi garnered nearly 14 percent of the vote, according to the figures announced yesterday.

The electoral commission did not announce the breakdown of seats in the national legislature and has three more days to address claims of irregularities.

Reports today suggested that talks are already under way aimed at forming a new government once the final results are confirmed.

Political Negotiations

The tally announced yesterday indicated that the United Iraqi Alliance -- a group comprising mostly Shi'ite Islamist candidates and backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani -- appears to have won roughly 48 percent, and it is unclear whether it might be able to form a majority government by itself.

The United Iraqi Alliance was widely expected to seek the prime minister's post for one of its candidates.

Reports suggest the Shi'ite alliance might seek to form a coalition with the Kurdish coalition, which placed second with some 26 percent of the vote. The Kurds are reportedly seeking the presidency or the post of prime minister.

'Arab Democratic Experience'

Farid Ayar, a spokesman for Iraq's Election Commission, stressed that any complaints of election irregularities still must be dealt with before the tally is finalized and the distribution of parliamentary seats can be determined.

"As of tomorrow, if there are any complaints, the commission will receive those complaints," Ayar said. "Everybody has three days to formally register such complaints. During these three days, we will try to respond to some of these complaints. And if we are unable to do so, we may extend the time [for dealing with complaints.] When we finish all this, we will approve the results."

Ayar hailed the elections -- which came nearly two years after the U.S.-led attack to oust Saddam Hussein -- as an example of what he called a "true, Arab democratic experience."

"Today, Iraq has taken a new step toward the horizon of democracy, a wide horizon, a step in which the Iraqi people are going to be the first practical example of a real, true, Arab democratic experience," Ayar said.

Sunni Absence

There were roughly 8.4 million ballots cast to elect a transitional, 275-seat National Assembly, representing voter turnout of 59 percent.

Preliminary results released during the past two weeks have shown that relatively few Sunni Muslims voted. That means the minority group that had dominated Iraq under the regime of Saddam Hussein is expected to have only minor representation in the new National Assembly.

The main Sunni group in the assembly is likely to be the bloc led by interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir, which is expected to gain only a handful of seats.

Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni political leader who participated as a candidate and leads a group called the Iraqi Independent Democrats, told RFE/RL ahead of yesterday's tally announcement that he was disappointed by low voter turnout in Sunni areas. But he said he would not contest the legitimacy of the ballot.

"I would have been happier if there was a large voter turnout in certain areas where the turnout has been extremely low -- which, of course, gives the perception that this election lacked proper balance. But I do not contest its legitimacy," Pachachi said. "It is a legitimate election. A large number of Iraqis voted and voted freely. Unfortunately, a substantial number of Iraqis did not vote."

However, analysts and correspondent say the low number of Sunni representatives in the legislature could fuel the insurgency being fought mainly by Sunni Arab militants who want to drive out U.S.-led coalition forces and overthrow the U.S.-backed government.

The Legislature's Agenda

Once formed, the National Assembly will elect a Presidency Council that includes a president and two deputies. The council must have the backing of two-thirds of the legislature -- or 184 members.

The three-member Presidency Council must elect a prime minister and a cabinet within two weeks of being created. Its decision must be unanimous.

The prime minister and cabinet will then seek approval from the National Assembly in a single vote of confidence. It must be supported by a simple majority of parliament -- 138 votes -- to be approved.

The National Assembly also will be tasked with drafting a constitution for Iraq by 15 August.

Once the constitution is drafted, it must be presented to the Iraqi people for approval in a referendum to be conducted no later than 15 October.

If the constitution is approved, a general election will be held by 15 December, with the resulting government taking office before the end of this year. But if the constitution is rejected through the referendum, the National Assembly will be dissolved and an election for a new legislature must take place by 15 December.

(compiled from wire reports)

[For more on recent elections and the political environment in Iraq, see RFE/RL's dedicated "Iraq Votes 2005" webpage.]