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Released results show Shiites' edge

Associated Press
Published January 21, 2006

BAGHDAD - Shiite religious parties captured the biggest number of Parliament seats in last month's election but not enough to govern without partners, according to results released Friday.

Sunni Arabs scored major gains, opening the door to a greater role in government for the community at the heart of the insurgency.

The announcement by the election commission launched a period of tough bargaining among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions to form a government, which U.S. officials hope can win the trust of the disaffected Sunni Arab minority so U.S. and other foreign troops can go home.

"We encourage them, and the rest of the world encourages them, to work together, to work across lines, to work across whatever divisions may exist in society," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday.

U.S. hopes were buoyed by a threefold increase in the number of Sunni Arabs in Parliament, a move that boosts their chances for important posts in the new government. Many Sunni Arabs boycotted the January 2005 election, enabling Shiites and Kurds to dominate the government - sharpening sectarian tensions and fueling the insurgency.

But U.S. officials caution that it could take time for the political process to achieve success. As a sign of the problems that still remain, the U.S. command said American and Iraqi troops repelled a series of insurgent attacks on military facilities in Ramadi west of the capital that coincided with the announcement of the results.

After the results are ratified in about two weeks, President Jalal Talabani has 15 days to convene Parliament, which must choose a new president within a month. The new president designates a prime minister from the Shiite bloc, who must present his Cabinet to Parliament for approval within a month.

The Shiites need only a majority in Parliament to approve their prime minister, but a higher threshold to elect a president means they need more partners to govern smoothly.

The results of the Dec. 15 balloting also affirmed the power of religiously based politics in a country racked by sectarian violence.

A secular ticket headed by Ayad Allawi lost seats, although the former interim prime minister himself won election. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite once seen as America's choice to rule after Saddam Hussein, failed to win a seat.

According to the results, which must be certified within two weeks, the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance won 128 of the 275 seats, down from the 146 it held in the outgoing Parliament. Two major Sunni Arab groups took a total of 55 seats. Only 17 Sunni Arabs were in the old legislature.

Some Sunni gains were at the expense of the Kurds. An alliance of two Kurdish parties, allied with the Shiites in the outgoing government, won 53 seats, down from 75 in the old Parliament. Minor parties accounted for the rest of the seats.

[Last modified January 21, 2006, 01:34:14]

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