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Iraq: With Vote Results In, Wrangling Over New Government Begins

Final elections in Iraq are now in and they confirm a Shi'a alliance has won a slim majority in Iraq's transitional National Assembly. The United Iraqi Alliance will have 140 seats out of the 275 in the assembly. The alliance is followed by a Kurdish group -- the Kurdish Unity List -- and by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's bloc. The Shi'a alliance is clearly now the most powerful group, but its 140 seats still leave it short of the two-thirds majority needed to decide important issues like choosing a new prime minister.

Prague, 18 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The dominance of Shi'a and Kurdish groups in Iraq's new parliament was confirmed yesterday with the release of final elections results from the 30 January vote.

A spokeswoman for the election commission, Hamdia al-Husseini, made the announcement in Baghdad.

"First [came] the United Iraqi Alliance with 140 seats," al-Husseini said. "Second [was] the Kurdish Alliance with 75 seats. Third [was] the Iraqi List [interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's bloc] with 40 seats. Fourth [came] the Iraqiyun list [interim President Yawir al-Ghazi's bloc] with five seats. Fifth [was] the Turkoman list with three seats."

With the election process now finished comes the wrangling over a new government.

The assembly's most important first tasks will be choosing a prime minister and confirming the president and two vice presidents. The winners are looking for the best deals.

The Shi'a front-runner for the post of prime minister is Ibrahim al-Ja'fari from the Al-Da'wah party, one of the two main parties within the alliance. The other is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

Yahia Said, a researcher at the London School of Economics, said the most likely governing coalition is a link between the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurds.

"The majority can only be achieved with a coalition of the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan alliance," Said said. "So these two groups have to work together no matter what happens."

Said said Kurdish demands may not be easy for the United Iraqi Alliance to meet.

"The Kurds have already made their demands for such an alliance, which are a) a Kurdish president, b) a recognition of Kurdish rights and aspirations, including [Kurdish] aspirations for Kirkuk, and c) that Iraq is not made into a theological Islamic state," Said said.

According to Said, the Kurds are also seeking to preserve part of the Iraqi interim constitution that allows the three Kurdish provinces to have a veto in constitutional affairs.

Said believes an alliance between the Shi'a and Allawi groups is less likely given the strong opposition to Allawi's policy as prime minister to rehire some former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party and to slow the de-Ba'athification process. Said said Allawi may be offered the post of deputy prime minister as a way of ensuring some continuity of policy.

Al-Ja'fari, in an interview with "The Washington Post" on 18 February, indicated he favors a harder line toward former Saddam loyalists. He also said the Shi'a alliance would have "no problem" in meeting a Kurdish demand to install one of its leaders, Jalal Talabani, as president.

The bigger question now is how to deal with Iraq's Sunni Muslim population. Many Sunnis declined to take part in the vote out of concern for security or as a way to protest the U.S.-led occupation.

Sunni parties and groups generally fared poorly in the vote -- out of proportion to their position as Iraq's second biggest ethnic or religious group.

Ja'fari said the new government will also include Sunni politicians, but it wasn't clear which ones.

Said said SCIRI has been negotiating with an influential Sunni group, the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq.

The Sunni association boycotted the election, but Said believes any agreement with them could help the Shi'a alliance fend off controversial Kurdish demands, such as the question of the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk -- which many Kurds consider to be their national capital.

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