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Kurds the Big Winners in Iraqi Election

The results from the January 30th Iraqi election show a Shi’ite - dominated ticket won 48 percent of the votes, not enough to govern with a clear majority. How will that affect the proportion of seats allotted to each party in the National Assembly?

Just over two weeks ago, 8.5 million Iraqis, 58 percent of the electorate, voted to elect a National Assembly. The broad Shi’ite alliance won 140 of the 275 seats in the Assembly. Enough for a majority, but not enough for the necessary two-thirds majority required to pick the new government or have a dominant role in writing a constitution. Shi’ites may have received the most votes but they'll have to compromise to form a new government.

Dr. Susan Rice, a former Clinton administration official is now with the Brookings Institution research group in Washington, D.C. She says the Kurds, the most obvious coalition partner for the Shi’ites, were the big winners in last month's election – they will have 75 seats in the new parliament.

"They polled even better than their share of the population might have suggested they would have. And so now they really do have a very powerful role to play as alliances are struck and coalitions are formed. I think the Kurds will clearly be looking out for their own interests but also will likely play a moderating role, pulling in a more secular direction than perhaps some of the Shi’ite leadership might like," says Dr. Rice.

Dr. Rice says there is a substantial risk of a Shi’ite religious domination in Iraqi politics. It is a fear held by many Iraqis who supported the minority parties in the January 30th election. Supporters of the Iraqi Turkmen Front party, which appears to have won three seats in the National Assembly, say the election lacked legitimacy. They have called on the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq to look in to allegations their votes were not all counted.

Fakit Wahab, a Turkmen demonstrator, says they cannot be ignored because they represent a large segment of the Iraqi population.

"We came here asking for our rights, as we are more than 13 percent of Iraqi society. We are about four million and all of us were marginalized in the elections," says Mr. Wahab.

The big question remains whether the Sunnis will be brought into the political process. They were the group in power under Saddam Hussein and largely boycotted the election. Many of the insurgents responsible for the increase in violent attacks in Iraq are Sunni sympathizers.

"I think it's far too soon to know whether the election was a win for all the Iraqi people. If the Sunnis cannot be embraced and brought in, in a fashion that takes the wind out of the sails of the insurgency, this could in fact be the beginning of a great deal more violence than has even been the case even in the past," says Dr. Rice.

The official allocation of seats will begin next week after the election commission hears protests on the voting tallies. It could be several more weeks after that before the political parties put together the two-thirds majority needed to select the new government.