Shiite religious parties in Iraq came up short of securing a majority in the new parliament according to final results announced Friday by the Election Commission. The results, which mean the Shi'ite parties will have to form a coalition, came as a leading Sunni politician made an impassioned plea for the release of kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll.
A reminder of how important Iraq's fledgling election process is to the country's long-neglected Shi'ite majority came today during a televised news conference announcing the final voting results. As a member of Iraq's electoral commission, Safwat Rashid, announced the results, a staffer on a partisan Iraqi Shi'ite media outlet interrupted by opening up his own microphone.
That was a prayer of thanks for the victorious Shi'ite parties, as Rashid announced that those parties had captured 128 seats in the 275-member parliament.
The Shi'ite parties won the largest number of seats, but failed to capture the majority needed to pass legislation. That means the parties will have to team up with the Kurdish coalition, which won 53 seats, or the two Sunni parties, which won a total of 55 seats together.
The secular party headed by the pro-U.S. former prime minister, Iyad Allawi, won 25 seats. The party of Ahmed Chalabi, the former Iraqi exile once funded by the U.S. government, failed to win a single seat.
The Kurds and the Shi'ites dominated the previous parliament with more than a two-thirds majority, allowing them to ratify a constitution to their own tastes. Now, both parties are just shy of the two-thirds majority, and will have to bargain with the smaller parties, especially the Sunnis, as a new government is formed in the coming weeks and months.
Sunni discontent is widely seen as fueling the insurgency here, and American officials have pressed the Kurds and Shi'ites to include Sunnis in the political process as a strategy toward stabilizing the country.
One Sunni participating in the political process is Adnan al-Dulaimi. In an interview broadcast on Arab Satellite Channel al-Arabiya, he asked for unity in the political process, and he also appealed to the kidnappers of American journalist Jill Carroll for her release.
"In the name of God, in all the name of charity, I appeal for you to release this female journalist," he said. "She came to cover our news, and to defend our rights, she's one of the journalists who denounced the war against Iraq. This act hurts me and makes me sad."
Dulaimi made the remarks hours before a deadline ran out on kidnappers' demands that all female detainees in American custody be released. The kidnappers said they would kill Carroll Friday if their demands were not met.
Carroll had gone to interview Dulaimi at his office in a lawless Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad on January 7. Dulaimi was not there and gunmen kidnapped Carroll and her translator less than 300 meters from his office as they drove away. Her translator was found shot to death a few blocks away.