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Iraqi Parties Bargain for Power, Await Official Election Results


With the Iraqi Electoral Commission announcement Monday that 99 percent of the ballots in the December 15 national election are valid, it appears the results will remain basically unchanged. The Commission's verdict on the election came after several groups protested that the biggest winner in the vote, the Shiite Islamist United Iraqi Alliance, had rigged many votes at the expense of Sunni Arab and secular parties. Although the official election results have not yet been announced, the bargaining for power in the new government has already begun among the various coalitions.

Many Iraqis are impatient at the all-but-paralyzed political process, as the newly elected government waits in the wings for an international election inspection team to validate the December 15 election results.

The impatience was evident at the Khademeyah shrine in Baghdad last Friday, where Shiite Imam Hazzam Al Araji railed against American Forces and the lack of security in Iraq.

"Now the Iraqi society lives in a critical time," he said. "Now you can see Baathists, Saddamists, Zarqawists, they're represented in this time. Now from our religious scholar we didn't see any movement, any signal. We need movement. There is no movement."

Al Araji was referring to the silence of Iraq's most respected Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatolla Ali Al Sistani, and his continued urging that Shiites not retaliate against Sunni Arabs in the face of attacks on the Shiite population.

An official announcement of the election results is expected later this month. But the results are not expected to diverge wildly from the preliminary results, and the back-room horse-trading has already begun for positions in the new government.

"Now we are passing a very important time for Iraq, as we are working toward forming the permanent government," said Shiite Political Analyst and former politician Ali al Dabagh.

He says the new, four-year government will have the ability to either unify Iraq's diverse communities or lead them to more division and civil war. The government will be the first permanent elected body to rule the country since the American led invasion in 2003.

The Shiite coalition of 16 parties, known as the UIA, won a little less than half the seats in an assembly where the new government's prime minister and other positions will need a two thirds majority to be approved. This means the UIA will have to bargain with the Sunni Arab parties, which won around 20 percent of the vote, and the Kurdish bloc, which won the other 20 percent.

The current president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, is expected to remain in his position, but under condition that he gets more power in the largely symbolic position. The other two most powerful positions in the government are the Speaker of Parliament, currently a Sunni, and the Prime Minister, a Shiite. Two Shiite UIA members are jockeying for prime minster, the current Prime Minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, and Vice President Adel Abdel Mehdi. Dabagh says whoever is selected could determine which group - Sunni or Kurd - the UIA forms a coalition with in the next government.

"Adel Abdel Mehdi thinks that his alliance, his coalition is the Kurd, while Dr. Jaffari thinks his coalition is the Arab Sunnis," he added. "The compass may go in a different way, in a different direction. It depends on who is going to be selected."

The parties are jockeying for four powerful cabinet positions: the ministers of interior, defense, finance and oil. Redha Taki, head of the political bureau at the powerful Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the largest party within the UIA, listed some posts his party is willing to give Sunnis Arabs.

"If they want one of two ministry of security, I mean Defense or Interior, it is okay to go for Sunni group," he explained. "They have got vice presidents, deputy prime minster, speaker, and one or two important ministers like finance, it is no problem."

But Taki and his party do have a problem with members of Saddam Hussein's former Baath party, and this was made clear in a speech by SCIRI head Abdel Aziz Al Hakim last week. He said de-Baathification would be non-negotiable. This position could endanger attempts by the United States and Iraqi government to enlist Sunnis in the political process and draw them away from the insurgency.

SCIRI has also opposed any new negotiations on the constitution. Sunnis took part in December's election after watching the previous Shiite and Kurdish dominated parliament pass a document that allowed for a semi-autonomous mini state in the south, like that of the Kurdish provinces in the north. It is a process known here as federalization, and Taki defended SCIRI's hard-line public position on it, even though his party agreed to negotiate previously.

"We don't know why they accept federalization for Kurdish people, but don't accept same law and the same idea to other Iraqi people, especially in the south and middle of Iraq," said Mr. Taki.

This position has brought an outcry from Sunni leaders like Tariq Al Hashemi, a senior official in the Sunni Accordance Front and a member of the new parliament, who say SCIRI's Leader, Hakim, is playing with fire. "He raised this issue in this very, very critical time in fact, and make this political chaos and tried to increase the political tension for all Iraqis," he noted.

Taki says that despite the appearance of being hard line, the Shiite UIA is willing to compromise and that his party is looking to include all Iraqis in the political process. The ability of all of Iraq's politicians to compromise will be known in the next few months, as the government forms and they debate the constitution, federalism, the distribution of natural resources.