Shi'ite bloc wins Iraqi election
A Shi'ite alliance won Iraq's first election since Saddam Hussein's overthrow, sealing the new political dominance of the country's majority.
The Electoral Commission said yesterday the Shi'ite bloc, known as the United Iraqi Alliance, took 47 per cent of the vote, less than the bloc had predicted.
A Kurdish alliance came second with 25 per cent, while a grouping led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi came third with 13 per cent.
The commission said 8.55 million Iraqis, or 58 per cent of registered voters, cast ballots in the election, Iraq's first multi-party poll for half a century, on January 30.
Sunni Arab turnout was low. Only 2 per cent of eligible voters in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province cast ballots, and only 29 per cent in the Sunni Salahadin province.
Sunnis, who make up about 20 per cent of Iraq's 27 million people, will be under-represented in the National Assembly that will now be formed.
The vote tally will determine the composition of a 275-member provisional 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 the assembly.
With no bloc gaining dominance on its own, there has already 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.
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.
Insurgents have mounted repeated attacks against US troops, Iraqi security forces and government officials, and also against Shi'ites - raising fears the country could slide towards sectarian civil war.
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.
The bodies of two men who worked with Allawi's party were found in a rebellious district of Baghdad yesterday, 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.
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, and gunmen attacked a Shi'ite bakery in the capital, killing nine.