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Sunday, February 13, 2005

The New York Times > International > Middle East > Shiites Win Most Votes in Iraq, Election Results Show

The New York Times > International > Middle East > Shiites Win Most Votes in Iraq, Election Results Show: "February 13, 2005
Shiites Win Most Votes in Iraq, Election Results Show
By JOHN F. BURNS and NAT IVES
February 13, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 13 - New and nearly final tallies of the votes cast in the Jan. 30 Iraqi national election show Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims won almost half, or 48.2 percent, of the nearly 8.5 million votes cast, more than any other group but not enough to select the country's next president and other leaders without the help of others.

That help could come in the form of a coalition with the No. 2 vote-getters, an alliance of Kurdish candidates. Helped by a turnout over 90 percent in three Kurdish provinces, their alliance received nearly 2.2 million votes, or 25.6 percent of the votes cast.

A ticket led by Ayad Allawi, the interim Iraqi prime minister, finished third, with nearly 1.2 million votes, or 13.8 percent.

The long-awaited results were issued this morning in Baghdad by representatives of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, who meticulously ticked off vote counts by province and by party. Voters chose from 111 parties as they voted for members of 18 provincial parliaments and a 275-member transitional national assembly. That assembly will be responsible for writing the country's constitution.

Today's figures showed a turnout of about 60 percent among Iraq's 14 million eligible voters.

Almost immediately after today's figures were announced, political leaders made a frenetic round of discussions about forming a transitional government, with indications that the process was likely to be both protracted and contentious.

Although the Shiite coalition that campaigned under the patronage of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani failed to take a simple majority of the votes cast, after a projected lead shrunk as more votes arrived from areas north of Baghdad, it appeared likely to win a majority of seats in the national assembly.

Iraq's election commission will not officially allocate assembly seats until after a 72-hour period that begins Monday during which the parties may enter any protests they have against the vote count. The commission said it has set no deadline for announcing the formal breakdown of seats, a fact that suggested there could be a wait of as much as a week. Votes cast for parties that failed to gather the minimum number required to win a single seat - about 30,750 votes - will be struck from the total votes cast before any seats are allocated.

Applying the complex formulas for assigning seats under the proportional representation system used for the election, unofficial calculations show the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite coalition, headed for 140 seats. The Kurdish Alliance, made up of two Kurdish parties, appears likely to receive 75 seats. Dr. Allawi's ticket, called the Iraqi List, will likely get about 40 seats.

But the provisional constitution adopted during the formal American occupation last year effectively requires a two-thirds majority in the assembly to win approval for the key posts of the presidency council - to include a president and two vice presidents - who will in turn pick a prime minister and a cabinet.

So the Shiite alliance would still need the help of another party to achieve decisive influence in the selection of the country's next leaders. There have been intense discussions between the Shiite alliance and the Kurdish alliance since the election two weeks ago in an attempt to form a coalition in the assembly.

The results today, however, opened up the slim possibility of the Shiite alliance facing a challenge in forming a government. Secular parties have been running parallel discussions to see if they can at least form a bloc large enough to deny the Shiites the two-thirds majority it seeks.

Those secularist efforts have been led by Dr. Allawi, who flew to the northern city of Erbil on Thursday for hurried talks with Massoud Barzani, one of the principal leaders of one of the two major Kurdish political groups, the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Dr. Allawi and his aides have also put out feelers to secular groups including the party led by the interim president, Ghazi al-Yawar, the only predominantly Sunni group to have emerged from the election with a significant bloc of seats, and the Communists.

Mr. Barzani said today that he was satisfied in general with the results, although he said as many as 300,000 Kurds may not have been able to vote and that he may take up the issue with the election commission during the 72-hour challenge period.

"It was a big success for the entire people of Iraq and for the people of Kurdistan in general," Mr. Barzani said in an interview a reception hall in his mountain retreat of Salahuddin, with snow blanketing the grounds. "It shows the size of the Kurds in Iraq. It also shows the Kurds can play a major role in the building of a new Iraq that is federal, democratic and pluralistic."

American officials had adopted an attitude of insistent neutrality ahead of the election results, saying they would work with any government that emerged. But the emerging likelihood of a broad coalition government may please the Americans, since it seems likely to favor moderation on issues of crucial importance to the United States, including the role of Islam in the future Iraqi state.

Before the election results were announced, key leaders in the Shiite alliance acknowledged the need to form coalitions with other political groups in order to achieve the two-thirds majority required to form a government. They said they were not planning to include Shiite clerics in the government and would not push for stringent Islamic provisions in the new constitution.

The leaders of two Shiite religious parties have also said they have no plans to lay down a timetable for withdrawal of American troops, but prefer that United States troops remain in Iraq as long as it takes for Iraq's own American-trained security forces to develop to the point that they can defend the new government against Sunni insurgents on their own.

The uncertified results reflected the broad Sunni boycott of the elections, called for by Sunni leaders in the months leading up to the vote. The Iraqis Party, composed of Sunnis and Shiites and led by Mr. Yawar, a Sunni Arab, won about 150,000 votes, or 1.7 percent, in the contest for the national assembly. Unofficial calculations show the Iraqis Party will receive five assembly seats as a result.

Mohammed Bashar al-Faidi, of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni group, told the Al-Jazeera network that the lack of international or United Nations election monitors undermined the results' authenticity.

"Those who boycotted the elections are more than those who took part in it," he said. "Boycotting the election does not mean that the boycotter will renounce his rights."

A party led by Moktada al-Sadr, the cleric who has led Shiite uprisings against American troops, also received enough votes to gain perhaps three seats in the new transitional assembly.

Serving as a reminder that the country's power struggles have not been totally channeled into electioneering, violence erupted again today as one soldier with Task Force Danger was killed and another was wounded by indirect fire on a base near Samarra this afternoon, the American military said. Three other Task Force Danger soldiers also died this morning in a vehicle rollover during a combat patrol near Balad.

Elsewhere in Iraq, insurgents attacked a United States convoy and a government building near Mosul in northern Iraq, killing four people, The Associated Press reported. Two members of the Iraqi National Guard also died trying to defuse a roadside bomb.

John F. Burns reported from Baghdad, Iraq, for this article, Edward Wong contributed reporting from Erbil, Iraq,and Nat Ives contributed from New York.

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