Ruling Shiite Bloc Sets Pace at Polls
A Shiite Muslim coalition built around Iraq’s governing alliance won a commanding number of seats in an election that underscored the depth of the country’s ethnic and sectarian divisions, according to preliminary results released Monday and unofficial reports.
Preliminary data from 11 of the country’s 18 provinces and other vote estimates indicated that Islamic-led parties or coalitions drawn from all main ethnic groups would win at least 175 of the 275 seats in the new Council of Representatives. In addition, officials with the main Kurdish alliance in northern Iraq said they expected to win about 55 seats.
The results appeared to be a major defeat for former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi despite millions of dollars spent on a highly visible media campaign. American officials in Baghdad and Washington looked favorably on Allawi, a pro-Western secular Shiite and onetime CIA-backed opponent of the Saddam Hussein regime.
Iraqis voted in droves Thursday for a parliament that will assemble a government and determine the country’s course for the next four years. Under complicated election rules, 230 seats will be divided among leading vote-getters in line with the population of Iraq’s provinces. The remaining 45 seats will be apportioned according to nationwide vote totals for party slates.
Election officials cautioned that the numbers released Monday were preliminary and didn’t include wide swaths of the country, including the mostly Sunni Arab provinces of Al Anbar and Nineveh and the ethnically mixed provinces surrounding Kirkuk, Mosul and Baqubah.
Voting results may also be scrutinized for irregularities. “We reject these results,” Adnan Dulaimi, a leader of the main Sunni Arab slate, told the Al Arabiya satellite television station. “There has been lots of manipulation, especially in Baghdad.”
Sunnis are a minority but dominated the country under Hussein and now form the core of the insurgency. They largely boycotted January’s balloting for a transitional assembly but turned out in large numbers last week.
Numbers tallied so far show a continued entrenchment of the country’s ethnic and sectarian divisions. Secular parties trying to build pan-Iraq appeal fared poorly.
The Shiite-identified United Iraqi Alliance, which currently controls the government, estimated that it would receive about 130 seats, fewer than it won in January but still the largest block. The alliance eschewed television ads in favor of the power of the mosque and the marjaiyah, the council of high-ranking Shiite clergymen whose implicit blessing propelled the coalition to power in January.
The alliance took about 80% of the vote in Najaf and Karbala provinces, home to important religious shrines and seminaries, and appeared to have secured 12 of 14 seats there, according to data from 98% of the polling centers. A partnership with groups representing maverick cleric Muqtada Sadr, who kept his distance from the alliance in January, also contributed to its victory.
Support for the alliance was virtually unanimous at polling centers in Baghdad’s teeming Sadr City area, home to many supporters of the firebrand cleric.
In contrast, an analysis of partial results indicated that Allawi’s faction had secured at least 16 seats in Baghdad and the Shiite south. Early partial returns and reports from around the country suggested that he would wind up with no more than 25 seats, substantially fewer than the 40 his ticket won in January. His deputies were holding out the hope of matching their January total when all seats are finally awarded.
Allawi, the favorite of the country’s Westernized intelligentsia, received only 13% of the vote in Baghdad province, where he was believed to have the strongest base of support.
Poor performances by Allawi and other centrists bode ill for Iraq, said Wayne White, a former State Department intelligence official who is now an analyst at the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank.
“The thing I really fear is that we’re going to have a government of extremes and the center doesn’t seem to be taking shape,” he said.
Iraqi political insiders estimate that Allawi spent $20 million on his campaign and joked that he would end up spending as much per seat in parliament as most members of the U.S. Congress. Allawi deputies acknowledged disappointment with the results. They blamed the suffering of their middle-class supporters, voter intimidation and cheating by the dominant Shiite coalition. Many Allawi loyalists and the former interim prime minister himself left Iraq as results began trickling in.
“There are suspicions about some areas of Baghdad, where we will demand the recounting or the redoing of the elections,” said Hussein Adeli, an official in the Allawi campaign. “The process was not transparent or honest according to international criteria. It was under threats, weapons, horror and the abuse of the religious figures -- all led to these results.”
“The election results proved that the middle class in Iraq has become devastated because of the living conditions they have,” said Maysoon Damluji, a deputy minister of culture running on Allawi’s ticket. “This class is the one which normally chose a liberal list. Here in Iraq, because of the economic situation, sanctions and wars, this class has been diminished.”
Alliance strategists said missteps by Allawi and his colleagues framed his campaign as an attack on Shiite clergy. They also suggested that his far-flung coalition, which included former members of Hussein’s Baath Party and Iraq’s long-established Communist Party as well as a smattering of Western-style Democrats, lacked cohesion.
“His campaign doesn’t have an identity, and therefore voters don’t know why they should vote for him,” said Saad Jawad Qindeel, a United Iraqi Alliance strategist.
Two Sunni Arab slates won an estimated 12 seats in Baghdad, five in Salahuddin province and a smattering in the Shiite south. Iyad Samarrai, a leader of the main Sunni coalition, forecast that his Islamist bloc would ultimately win about 45 seats.
He said his National Accordance Front was willing to negotiate with the Shiite coalition, which includes onetime Iranian-backed militiamen who fought Hussein’s Sunni government, to build the two-thirds majority necessary in parliament to name a president. The president appoints a prime minister, who manages the government’s day-to-day affairs.
“This negotiation will start soon,” he said. “There is even the possibility of a partnership with the alliance. We have very big complaints against their program and behavior within the past year. We have to make sure that they deal with these complaints.”
Sadoon Faylee, a Kurdistan Alliance campaign strategist, said the main Kurdish coalition would probably get about 55 seats. It won 75 in the January election.
Ahmad Chalabi, the onetime U.S. favorite, appeared to draw less than 0.5% of the vote in Baghdad and appeared unlikely to gain a seat in parliament.
Other results around the country showed few surprises. Election officials in Al Tamim province, where the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk is situated, said the Kurdish bloc, an ethnic Turkmen slate and Sunni Arab coalitions were leading.
An election official said a panorama of parties was fighting it out for the 10 seats in Diyala province, which includes the Sunni and Shiite city of Baqubah and the Kurdish city of Khanaqin.
Times staff writer Saif Rasheed and special correspondent Asmaa Waguih in Baghdad and special correspondents in Baqubah, Kirkuk and Najaf contributed to this report.