Secular Allawi bloc takes most seats in Iraqi election


IRAQI VOTERS have inflicted a dramatic upset on the Shia religious parties which have ruled Iraq since the US occupation.

The country’s election commission announced yesterday that the secular Iraqiya bloc headed by former prime minister Iyad Allawi won the prized plurality of seats contested in Iraq’s March 7th parliamentary election.

This result deprives incumbent Nuri al-Maliki’s sectarian State of Law bloc of the first chance to form the next government and may lead to his exclusion from the race for the premiership.

Iraqiya secured 91 seats in the 325-member national assembly, the State of Law 89. The Shia fundamentalist slate, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), won 70 seats and the traditional clan-oriented Kurdish parties 43 seats.

“We will work with the winners and losers to form a government,” a beaming Mr Allawi said on hearing the results. “We will not exclude anyone. Our coalition is open to all.”

Mr Maliki reacted to the commission’s release of figures by saying that the result is “not final” and proclaiming that his bloc will continue its efforts to form a cabinet. However, Ad Melkert, the head of the UN mission to Iraq, said the organisation believed the election had been “credible” and congratulated the commission on the poll’s conduct.

Last week, when it emerged that Mr Allawi’s slate was ahead, Mr Maliki called foul and fraud and demanded that the election commission conduct a manual recount of all 12 million votes. He clearly fears that since his bloc failed to secure the most votes, potential Shia and Kurd coalition partners – who are not keen on him in any case – could choose an- other candidate, even one from the third place INA.

Mr Allawi has already held consultations with potential partners. But he is likely to find more difficult than Mr Maliki would have the task of rounding up 163 mandates. If Mr Allawi fails, the president will call on the leader of another bloc to build a cabinet.

This election has transformed Iraq’s political landscape whoever forms the next government.

The secular/Sunni camp, which boycotted the 2005 contest, organised and turned out in force to cast ballots. Iraqiya, its flagship, won five northern provinces and more than one-third of the seats in Baghdad.

Iraqiya is now a serious actor on the Iraqi political scene although its emergence has sharpened the polarisation between secularists and sectarians.

Religious parties have begun to lose their ascendancy. The Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, which had 44 seats in the outgoing parliament, has been reduced to six.

Shia sectarian parties, united under the auspices of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in 2005, secured a comfortable plurality in 2005. But last year they split into two feuding factions, weakening the fundamentalist grip on power.

Furthermore, Mr Maliki, distanced himself from political Shiaism, projected himself as a nationalist, and formed a moderate Shia electoral alliance, studded with Sunni tribal leaders. While his Dawa party secured only 20 per cent of the Shia vote in 2005, this time round his bloc won two-thirds of the votes garnered by Shia parties and led in seven provinces.

Mr Maliki’s transformation was a double defeat for the Shia fundamentalists, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) and the radical movement of Muqtada al-Sadr. Their bloc won in only three provinces. Sadr’s candidates took the majority of seats won by the bloc at the expense of the SIIC, making it unlikely that this entity will survive since the SIIC and the Sadrists have very different agendas. While Iran is certain to put pressure on the Shias to make common cause, they no longer constitute a cohesive force.

The Kurdish Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which rule the three Kurdish provinces, lost eight seats to Goran, the change movement which appeared in 2009 and seeks accommodation with Baghdad over issues of supreme importance to the Kurds. This could reduce friction between Kurds and Arabs, particularly in the north.

Shortly before the election result was announced, 42 Iraqis were killed and more than 60 wounded in an attack in Dyala province north of the capital.