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Iraqi President Says Sunni Arabs Need to be Part of Efforts to Draft Constitution


The final counting of ballots cast in Iraq's landmark elections Sunday began in Baghdad Tuesday. But with preliminary surveys indicating that many Sunni Arabs stayed away from the polls, Iraq's Interim President Ghazi al-Yawer says he and other Sunni Arabs will work with Sunni leaders to build an inclusive government.

Interim President Yawer on Tuesday acknowledged that based on voter turnout in Sunday's elections, largely-Shi'ite coalitions and parties are poised to win a substantial number, if not an outright majority, of seats in the new 275-member Iraqi assembly.

That would give Shi'ite Muslims, who form a 60 percent majority in Iraq but were disenfranchised under Saddam Hussein's Sunni Arab government, a powerful voice in the country's constitution that the assembly is required to write.

Knowing the political stakes, Shi'ites voted in their millions on Sunday. But voter turnout for Sunni Arabs, who have been feeling increasingly marginalized in post-Saddam Iraq, was much lower in most parts of Iraq.

To avoid further alienating Sunni Arabs, who make up the core of the nearly 2-year-old insurgency, Mr. Yawer says all Iraqi politicians will have to open a dialogue with Sunni leaders and their groups.

One of the most important groups to engage, Mr. Yawer believes, is the Association of Muslim Scholars, an influential religious body, which called for a boycott of the elections.

"I think for the time being, we still have to work on a dialogue with them," he said. "They believe that no elections should take place before foreign troops leave the country or before putting a timetable for departure. We have said earlier we cannot put timetables. It has to be according to the circumstances. The better the security situation gets, that will expedite the beginning of the decrease of multi-national forces in Iraq.

"We hope that they will be part of the discussions for drafting the constitution," continued Mr. Yawer. "Personally, I will invite them again and again and again to join in the discussion for the constitution."

In a speech to the nation on Monday, Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi stated that he would personally lead efforts to reach out to Sunnis and other minorities by starting a national dialogue.

But in a subtle rebuke to what Mr. Allawi said, President Yawer clarified that such a dialogue would not be put together by just one person.

"When Dr. Allawi says "I," we do not mind this because we hope that he means by the word "I," all of the Iraqis. This is a team effort and we hope that the prime minister will be quite capable of participating."

The president says the reconciliation conference will likely begin after elections results are certified and the newly-elected assembly chooses the next interim government.

The leader of the main Shi'ite coalition expected to dominate the elections, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, appeared on Al-Arabiya satellite television channel on Tuesday, trying to reassure nervous Sunni Arabs. He says his group has every intention on building a government which includes all segments of the Iraqi people.

Meanwhile, Iraqi electoral commissioners say ballots and preliminary results from some 5,200 polling centers across Iraq have begun arriving at the commission's headquarters in Baghdad for the final count.

More than 200 commission workers will work around the clock to count the ballots and crunch the numbers into 80 computer terminals.

Officials say as details on the count are revealed in the coming days, complaints from candidates and parties on the voting procedures will be also be examined. When the investigations are finished, the commission will then validate the count and announce the official results.

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