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ICC Note:
Below is an excellent portion of an article from the CSM regarding Iraq ’s election and what the results portend for the future.

Iraqi vote points to Islamist path
By Ilene R. Prusher
The Christian Science Monitor

Early returns reveal that Shiites and Sunnis opted for religious parties.

BAGHDAD – Stretching newfound democratic muscle upon their first chance to elect a full-term government, Iraqis overwhelmingly threw their support behind religious parties defined along sectarian lines and ethnicity.

A bloc of Shiite religious parties close to Iran has, according to results released Tuesday, attracted the largest percentage of voters.

Here in the capital, a national barometer because it is the most diverse of Iraq’s 18 provinces, the United Iraq Alliance – religious Shiites who dominated the interim government formed in May – won about 58 percent of the vote.

A Sunni Islamist alliance comprised of politicians who have defended the insurgency campaign against US troops came in next, with close to 19 percent.

Trailing in third is Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite who was favored by the US and Iraqi moderates hoping to rise above the country’s rising sectarianism. Mr. Allawi, billed as a man who could unite parties and crack down on terrorism, received less than 14 percent of the vote.

Results are still preliminary and a final count may not be announced until January. But what clearly emerges is the tendency of millions of Iraqis to turn to religious and sectarian leaders to represent their interests in the post-Saddam political arena.

With more than three-quarters of the country giving a vote of confidence to Islamist parties, last Thursday’s vote raises the prospect of Iraq being more overtly religious than ever before.

The ideological orientation of the two leading vote-getters means Washington may have to work with a government of leaders who have resented the US presence here and demanded some kind of timetable for a troop withdrawal.

Iraq ‘s sectarian shift

Today’s shift toward Islamic parties, says Thabit A. J. Abdullah, a history professor at York University in Toronto , has grown in part as a backlash against that period, as well as a reaction to the postwar turmoil since Mr. Hussein’s overthrow by US forces in April 2003.

Shiite power play

The Shiite coalition that is likely to determine the configuration of Iraq ‘s next government is made up of several parties that don’t necessarily agree with one another’s outlook, for example, on the role of the clergy in politics.

That ticket, known as 555, did extraordinarily well in the south – winning over 77 percent of the vote in Basra . But newspapers in Baghdad have carried stories of voter manipulation in those areas, telling of instances in which voters were met at the polling stations by officials asking them to put a hand over the Koran and swear to vote for the Shiite religious ticket.

Kurdish parties, meanwhile, garnered an overwhelming majority in northern Iraq .

Mr. Khalilzad, giving a year-end press conference, acknowledged that most Iraqis preferred to cast votes along sectarian and ethnic lines. “But for Iraq to succeed,” he warned, “there has to be a cross-sectarian cooperation.” Too heavy of a focus on sectarian ties, he said, “undercuts prospects for success.”

With growing protests and the threat of a Sunni walkout looming, the hard work of coalition building has hardly begun.

But many here are trying to work out the permeations. While the Shiite religious politicians seem most likely to turn first to their recent allies in the Kurdish parties, there is also speculation that Iraq could see the emergence of an Islamic coalition that would unite Sunnis and Shiites.

Another scenario includes the possibility of disgruntled Sunni Arabs and Kurds allying themselves with Allawi to form a multiparty coalition to prevent Shiites from assuming power.

And as the election results roll in, still other options exist.

The wider the Shiite victory, the less they will need coalition partners to control the 275-seat parliament for the next four years.