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Iraq: Coalitions, Parties Jockeying For Position In New Political Landscape

An Iraqi man votes in the 15 December election (RFE/RL) By Valentinas Mite and Sultan Sarwar Iraq's Independent Election Commission says the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance has emerged as the leading grouping as vote counting continues from last week's parliamentary elections. The United Iraqi Alliance won first place in the capital, Baghdad, and in many southern provinces. But the partial results are already being criticized by Iraq's leading Sunni Arab coalition, the Iraqi Accordance Front, which is calling for a new vote to be held.

Prague, 20 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Partial results from the elections show the main Shi'ite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, receiving 59 percent of the vote in the capital. The Sunni Arab Iraqi Accordance Front came a distant second, with less than 19 percent.

He does not hold out much hope that violence will diminish, since other radical groups, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda in Iraq, consider the elections to have been illegitimate.

Baghdad and its surrounding province is the key contest in the vote, as it will account for more than three times more seats in parliament than any other region.

While officials are counting the votes, analysts and politicians are contemplating Iraq's future political landscape.

Mustafa Alani, a regional expert at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, said it is unlikely that any one political party or group will be able to form a future government. "Generally, I believe there will be no one group able to form a government," he said. "Not even two groups, even if they come together. Now, we are talking about at least five groups as major players."

The biggest of these groups, Alani said, is the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shi'ite religious parties that is already emerging as the top vote-getter. Another important political grouping is the Kurdistan Coalition List, which is headed by the two leading Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

A secular alliance called the Iraqi National List, led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and the National Congress Coalition, led by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, are also likely to secure seats in parliament.

The head of Iraq's Independent Election Commission has rejected a call from the leading Sunni Arab coalition, the Iraqi Accordance Front, to rerun the vote in Baghdad. Husayn al-Hindawi acknowledges there may have been some violations, but he said they were minor and would not affect the overall results in any province.

Despite this initial jockeying for position, observers say it is premature to speculate about possible coalitions. They note that it took more than 12 weeks for the Shi'a and Kurds to agree on a transitional National Assembly after elections in January. That vote was largely boycotted by the Sunnis.

However, Alani said there is no doubt that the substantial participation of the Sunnis in the 15 December vote is going to change things. Sunnis, who make up about 20 percent of Iraq's population, held power under former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The vast majority of insurgent attacks in Iraq occur in the Sunni-dominated central part of the country. The participation of Sunnis in Iraq's political process is seen as vital.

Baha al-Din Abd al-Qadir, one of the leaders of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a member of the Iraqi Accordance Front, told RFE/RL that Sunni participation will give more balance to Iraqi politics. "After these elections, we hope that there will be a large Sunni representation as a factor of balance in the next parliament," he said. "We noticed in previous parliaments that there was not enough Sunni representation and balance. So the next parliament will be strong enough to establish a powerful government representing all segments of Iraqi people. And that government will take Iraq out of the current crisis."

Alani said the relatively peaceful elections suggest that insurgent groups may be willing to join the political process. "We have seen during the elections that it was very quiet, and this was a result of political agreement," he said. "Two or three major armed groups declared they were going to respect the elections. They honored their pledges. So I believe those people are now part of the political game. Violence now can be controlled by political means."

Alani said if Sunni political parties can exert control over the armed groups, there is a chance that violence might decrease in the country.

As concerns the new parliament, Alani said there is little doubt that the issue of the withdrawal -- or at least a reduction -- in the number of foreign troops in Iraq will be high on the agenda. "The [new] Iraqi government will ask the Americans to reduce their forces, and the Americans are willing to do that," he said. "So I believe, if political stability is going to be established in the country, the government for the sake of legitimacy will ask the Americans to leave the country."

But Sa'd al-Hassani, a professor at Baghdad University, does not hold out much hope that violence will diminish, since other radical groups, such as Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda in Iraq, consider the elections to have been illegitimate.

"The withdrawal of foreign forces is the first demand of the resistance, especially after the elections, as these forces will not have justification to stay any longer in Iraq," al-Hassani said. "But there is more than just one group claiming to be the resistance, though some of them don't have any links to the resistance. They are [just] committing organized crimes, killings, and explosions, which are hurting only ordinary Iraqi citizens."

U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly rejected calls to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He also acknowledged that the parliamentary elections in Iraq will not end the violence, but he said the vote does mark the beginning of a constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad is urging Iraqi leaders to form a broad-based "cross-sectarian and cross-ethnic" government.

Coalition Images Of The Voting

Coalition Images Of The Voting

The Multinational Force in Iraq on December 15, 2005, released official images of the voting in the legislative elections. To view a slideshow of their photographs, click on the image.

To see RFE/RL's special webpage about the election, click here.

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