Iraq's Shiite Alliance Wins Slim Majority in New Assembly

By JAMES GLANZ

New York Times

February 17, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 17 -Iraq's Shiite alliance won a slim majority of seats in the new National Assembly, the Iraqi Electoral Commission confirmed today after reviewing returns from the Jan. 30 election.

The United Iraqi Alliance, composed mainly of Shiite Islamist religious parties, will occupy 140 seats in the 275-seat assembly.

A joint Kurdish bloc, which ran second in the elections, won 75 seats. The group led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who is backed by Washington, got 40 seats.

About 8.5 million votes were cast, reflecting a turnout of around 58 percent of the more than 14 eligible voters. Most Sunni Muslims, at the urging of their leaders, did not vote.

The announcements, made in a mainly empty hall here, were greeted with two small rounds of applause.

Most of the news media's attention centered on one of the top Shiite candidates to be prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the leader of the Dawa Party.

Dr. Jaafari said it would be two to three days before a decision would be made on who would serve as premier.

Asked by one of the crush of reporters if there would be a vote among the majority Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, he said that if negotiations could not settle it, a vote was likely.

"This is the curse of democracy - it's open," he said with a tight smile, in a clear allusion to the other top candidate for the position, the exile leader Ahmad Chalabi.

Dr. Jaafari also said it would be more than two weeks after the prime minister is chosen before a full cabinet is picked and sworn in.

There was a huge jam around Dr. Jaafari as he made for an exit.

He was surrounded by at least 6, and up to 10, Iraqi and Western security guards, allowing reporters to trail him as he left, answering further questions in Arabic and English. Dr. Jaafari was openly demonstrating that he regards himself as the favorite candidate to be prime minister.

The first round of applause in the hall came when Hamdiya Husseini, a female member of the commission, said that "I congratulate the winning entities, hoping that they will be helping to build a free, honest, democratic Iraq."

The second came when the ceremony ended.

Another commission member, Hussein Hindawi, closed the book on complaints about irregularities in the balloting, saying the commission "had viewed them thoroughly" and "expressed satisfaction despite the incomplete process."