Iraqi Shiites Win, but Margin Is Less Than Projection

Published February 14th 2005 in The New York Times
BAGHDAD - A broad Shiite alliance led by two Iran-backed religious parties won a slim majority of seats in the national assembly, final election results showed Sunday.

The alliance's victory - in the first fully elected parliament in Iraq's 85-year history as a separate state - was narrower than the alliance had projected and set the stage for protracted maneuvering.

The 8.5 million people who voted, a turnout of 58 percent, appeared to have spread their choices widely enough to assure that power in the new government, and in the drafting of a new constitution, will have to be broadly shared among the assembly's 275 members, lessening the possibility that a religious Shiite theocracy could emerge from the elections.

Calculations based on voting results indicated that while the Shiite alliance had won about 48 percent of the popular vote, it would hold 140 seats, or 2 more than required for a majority.

Until just before results were announced, alliance officials said they were expecting 150 seats. That number would have brought them closer to the two-thirds majority required to name a new government and to take the controlling hand in writing a constitution. Instead, heavy Kurdish voting in the north and secular voting in Baghdad and Basra offset the alliance's sweep in most of the southern provinces.

About 75 seats in the new assembly appeared headed for an alliance of Iraq's two main Kurdish parties, which dominated the votes of Iraq's heavily mountainous far north. A party led by Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who has been interim prime minister, seemed likely to take 40 seats, the largest bloc controlled by any individual leader. Five seats appeared likely to go to Sheik Ghazi al-Yawar, the interim president, one of a handful of Sunni leaders who did not boycott the elections, and the only Sunni figure of national standing who appeared to have secured a place in the assembly.

The remaining 15 seats will be scattered among eight other parties. Three seats seemed likely to go to a group loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the volatile Shiite cleric who has twice led uprisings against American troops, and another three seats to a Turkman party. Two seats each seemed likely to be taken by a vestige of Iraq's old Communist party and by two moderate Islamic splinter parties, one Kurdish and the other Shiite.

Three other seats, unofficial calculations show, will go to individuals, one of them an Assyrian Christian, one a former American-appointed governor of Nineveh Province and one the leader of a small party called the National Democratic Alliance.

The sweeping victory sought by the main Shiite group, the United Iraqi Alliance, was denied when the group's early lead in returns from Baghdad and the southern provinces shrunk before the heavy Kurdish voting in the north, and the secular vote in big cities for Dr. Allawi. Dr. Allawi took nearly 615,000 votes, more than half his total, in Baghdad and Basra.

But the crosscurrents of Iraqi politics were illustrated by the Shiite alliance's still greater success in Baghdad, the country's most cosmopolitan city, where it took 60 percent of the 1.9 million votes, many of them in the sprawling Shiite slum of Sadr City.

Needing about 44 more seats to reach a two-thirds majority in the assembly, the Shiite alliance signaled Sunday that it was ready to lead a coalition government of Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis, some of whom could be drawn into the cabinet even if they have no seats in the assembly.

Some alliance leaders even hinted at a national unity government that would include figures like Dr. Allawi, hitherto considered an apostate by some of the alliance's leaders because of his willingness to appoint veterans of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to senior posts in sensitive ministries like defense, interior and intelligence.

If the alliance's pledge to work with rivals survives the bargaining ahead, it will be a fresh lift for American officials here, who have been working since the Jan. 30 elections to encourage what one senior American diplomat described as the "integrating, rather than the disintegrating," forces in Iraqi politics.