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Rice Downplays Prospect of Theocratic Rule in Iraq

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she does not think Iraq is headed toward Iranian-style Islamic rule, despite what she said was an extremely strong showing by Shi’ites in the January 30th election. She says Shi’ite politicians understand that theocratic rule over the country would be unacceptable.

While many Sunni Muslims boycotted the elections or were afraid to vote because of the insurgency, the country's majority Shi’ites trooped to the polls in large numbers and appear poised to win control of the country's new National Assembly.

But Secretary Rice says she is heartened by statements by Iraqi Shi’ite political figures since the election that they intend to reach out to the Sunnis and other factions, including Kurds, Turkmen and others for an inclusive government.

Questioned by students after her policy address Tuesday at the Free School for Political Sciences in Paris, Ms. Rice said everything U.S. officials are seeing suggests that the Shi’ites understand their responsibility not to do to their fellow Iraqis what was done to them during the Sunni-based dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein.

"They understand that a theocratic government or a clerical government would be unacceptable to the vast majority of the Iraqi people,” she said. “And so they will find a proper role for Islam in their future. Many societies have done that and have done it still with democratic institutions in place. What we must understand is there is no inherent conflict between Islam and democracy. These two can exist side-by-side as they do for instance in Turkey."

The Secretary of State said she thinks Shi’ite politicians will come to terms with the country's diversity, and recognize that there are many other groups, which do not wish to see, as she put it, anything approaching a theocratic state.

Ms. Rice forecast that the process of negotiating a new Iraqi government will be difficult, and perhaps at times appear on verge of breakdown, but in the end be surprisingly successful.

Final results from the January 30th election are not expected before the end of the week.

But partial returns show a Shi’ite-dominated ticket endorsed by the country's most influential Shi’ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the United Iraqi Alliance, in position to capture more than half of the 275-seats in the national assembly.

The assembly, in turn, will elect a new president and two vice presidents who would select a prime minister subject to assembly approval. The leader of the United Iraqi Alliance has promised to reach out to disaffected Sunnis and others in the drafting of a new constitution.