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Monday, April 22, 2024

Tension High as Iraqis Await Election Results

Iraqis were due to hear the results of their first postwar election on Sunday, two weeks after the vote likely to have sealed new Shi'ite political dominance and marginalized the restive Sunni Arab minority.

Iraqis were due to hear the results of their first postwar election on Sunday, two weeks after the vote likely to have sealed new Shi’ite political dominance and marginalized the restive Sunni Arab minority.

Farid Ayar, spokesman for Iraq’s Electoral Commission, said the final tally would be announced at 4 p.m. (8 a.m. EST), although it will take another three days to ratify the outcome.

The results are certain to show that the United Iraqi Alliance, a group of mainly Shi’ite Islamist candidates, has won the most votes. A senior Alliance source said the Electoral Commission had told the Alliance it had won around 60 percent.

A coalition of Iraq’s main Kurdish parties is expected to come second with a bloc led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi third.

Partial results so far show that few Sunni Arabs voted, which means the minority that dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein will have few seats in the National Assembly that will be formed by the election — and little political influence.

That could stoke the insurgency in Iraq which is being fought mainly by Sunni Arab guerrillas who want to drive out U.S.-led troops and overthrow the American-backed government.

Insurgents have mounted repeated attacks against U.S. troops, Iraqi security forces and government officials, and also against Shi’ites — raising fears the country could slide toward sectarian civil war. If the election results further polarise Iraqis, that risk will increase.

Iraq has announced it will close its land borders from Thursday to try to prevent a flood of foreign pilgrims arriving for Ashura, one of the holiest events in the Shi’ite calendar, when millions of people converge on shrines in Iraq.

A car bomb exploded near an Iraqi security forces checkpoint on the road between Hilla and Kerbala in a mainly Shi’ite area south of Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least one person.

The road is expected to be thronged with pilgrims this week as millions of Shi’ites converge on Kerbala for Ashura.

Suicide bombers attacked pilgrims in Baghdad and Kerbala last year, killing 171 people, and Ashura could be a flashpoint again this year, especially if the election results fuel sectarian tension.


The bodies of two men who worked with Allawi’s party were found in a rebellious district of Baghdad on Sunday, police said. In the northwest of the capital, gunmen assassinated two senior Iraqi army officers and their driver. The al Qaeda network in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack.

In the town of Baquba northeast of Baghdad, assailants shot dead a Communist party member who was also a local councillor.

In Mosul, a rocket attack on the city hall building killed at least two people, hopsital officials said.

On Saturday, a suicide car bomb killed 18 people in Musayyib, a mixed Sunni and Shi’ite town south of Baghdad.

The previous day, a suicide car bomb near a Shi’ite mosque killed 13 people in Balad Ruz, northeast of Baghdad, and gunmen attacked a Shi’ite bakery in the capital, killing nine.

Al Qaeda’s wing in Iraq, led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the Balad Ruz attack but said its target was a nearby Iraqi army patrol, not the mosque.

Zarqawi’s group has previously issued statements denouncing the elections and condemning Shi’ites for taking part in them.

In Sunni Arab areas, many Iraqis stayed away from the polls, some because they feared attacks by insurgents who had vowed to wreck the vote and some because several leading Sunni Arab political groups called for a boycott.

The vote tally will determine the composition of a 275-member National Assembly that must agree on a president and two vice-presidents by a two-thirds majority. Those three officials will then agree on a prime minister and cabinet, and their choices must be approved by a majority in the assembly.

With no bloc likely to gain two-thirds of the seats, there has been furious horse-trading to try to strike deals.

The United Iraqi Alliance insists that one of its candidates — probably current Finance Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi or Vice President Ibrahim Jaafari — be appointed prime minister.

The Kurds want their candidate, Jalal Talabani, to be president or prime minister. Under one scenario, the two blocs could do a deal with a Shi’ite candidate getting the prime minister’s job and Talabani the presidency.

But Allawi, who visited Kurdistan on Saturday and met Talabani, may also try to form alliances to improve his chances. If he can make a deal with the Kurds and persuade some of the Shi’ite alliance to break away, he may be able to keep his job.

Even if Sunni Arabs are largely shut out of government, they could still potentially veto the new Iraqi constitution due to be written this year, causing political deadlock. One of the main tasks of the National Assembly is to oversee the drafting of a constitution which must be approved by a referendum.

(Additional reporting by Maher al-Thanoon in Mosul and Sami al-Jumaili in Kerbala)

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