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Iraqi Parliamentary Elections


Early results from Iraq’s national parliamentary elections indicate that Iraqis voted along mostly ethnic/sectarian lines with strong support for the leading Shi’ite religious alliance, especially in southern and central Iraq. A coalition of Kurdish parties dominated voting in the north. But thirty-five Iraqi political groups, including Sunni Arabs and secular Shi'ites led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, have rejected the early results and called for an international probe of alleged fraud.

Laith Kubbah, press spokesman for interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, said despite the fraud charges, there is much optimism after a high voter turnout of 70 percent, which illustrates that most Iraqis believe democracy and the ballot box represent the country's future.

Nonetheless, Mr. Kubbah acknowledged that the results indicate grave polarization in Iraqi society. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Kubbah said he hopes that Iraq’s leaders will opt for a government of national unity, but that such an outcome is as yet unclear.

According to Iraqi Kurdish journalist Hiwa Osman, the Kurds are pleased with last week’s elections and optimistic about their future. But Laith Kubbah said he is concerned about the integration and consolidation of Iraq’s security apparatus, especially if the central government is weak – a real possibility if the Shi’a majority and the Kurds remain inflexible about amending the current constitution, which was designed to create strong regions and a weak central government.

Another huge question is the degree to which Sunni Arabs will participate in the new government and be able to share in Iraq’s oil wealth. Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy of Asharq al-Awsat said many Sunni Arabs in Iraq feel that elections in their areas were fraudulent and they fear being left out in the next four years. She argued that the best way to end the violence was for the majority Shi’a Arabs and the Kurds to give Sunni Arabs a greater role in the governing process. And she suggested that what is preventing a civil war now is a recognition by the Shi’a majority that they would be the biggest losers. Nonetheless she is worried about how long they can rein in the Shi’a militias, especially given reports of torture at the hands of the Shi’a-dominated security forces.

However, the U.S. government is cognizant of the dangers of Iraq splitting along sectarian lines and of further alienating the Sunni Arab minority. Accordingly, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, has spoken out in recent days about the need to neutralize the ethnic militias as well as the need to form a national unity government.

Nonetheless, the journalists expressed concern about how long it might take Iraqis who voted along ethnic and sectarian lines to reconcile their differences.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.