Shi'ite alliance victorious in landmark Iraqi elections

A Shi'ite alliance has won Iraq's first election since Saddam Hussein's overthrow, sealing the new political dominance of the…

A Shi'ite alliance has won Iraq's first election since Saddam Hussein's overthrow, sealing the new political dominance of the country's long-oppressed majority.

The Electoral Commission said the Shi'ite bloc, known as the United Iraqi Alliance, took 47 per cent of the vote, less than the bloc had predicted.

A Kurdish alliance came second with 25 per cent, while a grouping led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi came third with 13 per cent.

Few Sunni Arabs took part in the voting, which effectively marginalises the minority that has traditionally ruled modern Iraq and held a privileged position under Saddam, a Sunni.


The commission said 8.55 million Iraqis, or 58 per cent of registered voters, cast ballots in the election, Iraq's first multi-party poll for half a century, that took place on January 30th.

Sunni Arab turnout was low. Only two per cent of eligible voters in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province cast ballots, and only 29 per cent in the mainly Sunni Salahadin province.

Sunnis, who make up about 20 per cent of Iraq's 27 million people, will be under-represented in the National Assembly that will now be formed. They will have little political influence. T

hat could stoke the insurgency in Iraq which is being fought mainly by Sunni Arab guerrillas who want to drive out US-led troops and overthrow the American-backed government.

Insurgents have mounted repeated attacks against US troops, Iraqi security forces and government officials, and also against Shi'ites - raising fears the country could slide towards sectarian civil war. Iraq has announced it will close its land borders from Thursday to try to prevent a flood of foreign pilgrims arriving for Ashura, one of the holiest events in the Shi'ite calendar, when millions of people converge on shrines in Iraq.

A car bomb exploded near an Iraqi security forces checkpoint on the road between Hilla and Kerbala in a mainly Shi'ite area south of Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least one person. The road is expected to be thronged with pilgrims this week as millions of Shi'ites converge on Kerbala for Ashura.

Suicide bombers attacked pilgrims in Baghdad and Kerbala last year, killing 171 people, and Ashura could be a flashpoint again this year, especially if the election results fuel sectarian tension.

The bodies of two men who worked with Allawi's party were found in a rebellious district of Baghdad today. In the northwest of the capital, gunmen assassinated two senior Iraqi army officers and their driver. The al-Qaeda network in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack.

In the town of Baquba northeast of Baghdad, assailants shot dead a Communist party member who was also a local councillor. In Mosul, a rocket attack on the city hall building killed at least two people, hopsital officials said.

Yesterday, a suicide car bomb killed 18 people in Musayyib, a mixed Sunni and Shi'ite town south of Baghdad. The previous day, a suicide car bomb near a Shi'ite mosque killed 13 people in Balad Ruz, northeast of Baghdad, and gunmen attacked a Shi'ite bakery in the capital, killing nine.

Al-Qaeda's wing in Iraq, led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the Balad Ruz attack but said its target was a nearby Iraqi army patrol, not the mosque.  Zarqawi's group has previously issued statements denouncing the elections and condemning Shi'ites for taking part in them.