U.S. 'in for a shock'
In early election results, Shiite cleric's alliance trouncing Washington's favorite
Borzou Daragahi, Chronicle Foreign Service
Friday, February 4, 2005
Baghdad -- Partial results from Sunday's election suggest that U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's coalition is being roundly defeated by a list with the backing of Iraq's senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, diminishing Allawi's chances of retaining his post in the next government.
Sharif Ali bin Hussein, head of the Constitutional Monarchy Party, likened the vote outcome to a "Sistani tsunami" that would shake the nation.
"Americans are in for a shock," he said, adding that one day they would realize, "We've got 150,000 troops here protecting a country that's extremely friendly to Iran, and training their troops."
The partial totals so far show the Iraqi List headed by Allawi, a secular Shiite and onetime CIA protege, trailed far behind with only 18 percent of the votes, despite an aggressive television ad campaign waged with U.S. aid. A lopsided majority of votes, 72 percent, went to the United Iraqi Alliance list, topped by a Shiite cleric who lived in Iran for many years and whose Sciri party has close ties to Iran's clerical regime. More than a third of the alliance's vote came from Baghdad, the cosmopolitan capital where Allawi had been expected to fare well.
Although the results are only from Baghdad and five southern provinces where the Shiite parties were expected to score strongly, and from only 10 percent of the country's 5,216 polling stations, the scale of the alliance's vote underscored the probability of a historic shift in the Shiites' favor from decades of Sunni minority rule in Iraq.
Safwat Rashid, a member of Iraq's Independent Election Commission, and international election officials warned observers not to read too much into the early numbers, which did not include tallies in the country's Sunni or Kurdish provinces.
Rashid said the Baghdad numbers came from "mixed" -- meaning Sunni and Shiite -- neighborhoods in the city where Allawi was expected to perform well. Hussein said Allawi had also performed poorly in Babil province, a relatively urbanized, mixed Shiite-Sunni area south of Baghdad.
He said the vote total and the total turnout numbers wouldn't be known for another 10 days.
Already, Western officials in Baghdad appeared to be downplaying worries about the possible victory by the alliance, topped by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, a cleric who spent years exiled in Iran.
The alliance "is a very diverse group of people, from Westernized independents to Sunni sheikhs to people who really believe in an Islamic state, " one Western diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said of the alliance on Wednesday. "It will be hard to maintain unity."
The election commission also released final vote tallies from overseas voters in eight countries, the United States, Britain, France, Iran, Syria, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Australia. The alliance won of 44 percent of the 170,000 votes cast in those countries, the Kurds 18 percent and Allawi's list 12 percent. In U.S. voting, Allawi garnered just 5 percent of the vote, less than the Communist Party total.
Some Sunni leaders said the Shiite coalition's strong showing to date did little more than validate the deep sense of alienation felt by Iraq's Sunnis, most of whom did not cast ballots Sunday.
"The Shia were determined and encouraged their supporters to vote and to register, and the Sunnis didn't care that much, either out of fear or apathy," said Adnan Pachachi, a foreign minister in the years before Saddam Hussein who is a prominent Sunni leader. "This is the story, really."
But signs also have emerged that some Sunni leaders are ready to involve themselves at least in a limited way in the country's political debate. The leaders of 13 mostly Sunni political parties that stayed out of the election agreed earlier this week that they would take part in writing a permanent constitution for Iraq.
When the vote count is final, the 275 seats in the National Assembly will be divided up among the 111 parties, individuals and coalitions that ran in the election, with each ticket getting seats according to its proportion of the vote. Each list that receives one-275th or more of the vote total gets at least a seat.
A two-thirds majority of the parliament must approve a president and two deputy presidents, who will be in charge of naming a Cabinet. The new assembly is also responsible for writing the constitution, a process that could be adjusted in order to include Sunni representatives.
Presuming the constitution is approved by referendum next autumn, new elections for a permanent government will be held by year's end.
None of the votes announced Thursday came from the Kurdish north, where heavy turnout is sure to guarantee a strong Kurdish presence in the assembly.
Kurdish political leader Jalal Talabani said he would seek the office of either president or prime minister when the legislature convenes. "We, as Kurds, want one of those two posts, and we will not give it up," Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and a candidate on the unified Kurdish list of candidates, told reporters.
Now that the election is over, Pentagon authorities have decided to start reducing the level of U.S. forces in Iraq next month by about 15,000 troops, down to about 135,000, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress Thursday. "I think we'll be able to come down to the level that was projected before this election," he said.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that about 40,000 of Iraq's best forces "can go anywhere in the country and take on almost any threat." But he acknowledged that more than two-thirds of the 136, 000 members of Iraqi security forces that the United States and its allies have trained and equipped were unready to tackle the insurgency.
That uprising began rattling the nation anew Thursday as at least 26 Iraqis and three U.S. Marines died in an uptick of violence following days of post-election calm.
Insurgents stopped a minibus south of Kirkuk, ordered army recruits off the vehicle and killed 12 of them. Gunmen fired on a vehicle carrying Iraqi contractors to jobs at a U.S. military base in Baquba, killing two.
A suicide bomber struck a foreign convoy escorted by military humvees on Baghdad's airport road. Rebels attacked Iraqi police Thursday in the Baghdad suburb of Abu Ghraib, killing one policeman and wounding five, the Interior Ministry said.
One U.S. Marine was killed Thursday in Babil province, the U.S. command said. Two other Marines were killed in action Wednesday night in Anbar province.
Chronicle news services contributed to this report.
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