Iraqi politicians regret Sunni absence

Against the backdrop of a Shia election sweep, Iraqi elder statesman Adnan Pachachi said he would work to ensure Sunnis participate in new elections later this year.

    Liberal, secular parties are likely to coalesce around Allawi's list

    Pachachi, a leading Sunni Arab secular politician, said on Sunday in an interview the results of Iraq's 30 January election did not reflect the views of the nation because millions of Sunnis did not vote.

    Some fear the lack of representation of the Sunnis, long the dominant group under former president Saddam Hussein, could hamper efforts to end anti-government violence and draw up a new constitution embracing all ethnic and religious groups.

    The party led by Pachachi, who had been widely tipped to become Iraq's president last year but lost out to fellow Sunni Arab Ghazi al-Yawir, is not expected to win a single seat in Iraq's new 275-member National Assembly.

    Al-Yawir's bloc may win around five.

    "In a way the result was expected to a large extent, because millions of Iraqis didn't vote," Pachachi said. "Those who voted are around eight million only, but around 14 million were eligible to vote."

    Time to move on

    Pachachi said he would work to ensure Sunnis could be involved in the political process and do better in the next national elections.

    The assembly elected at the 30 January polls will draft a new constitution which would pave the way for new elections later this year.

    Adnan Pachachi: The absence of
    Sunni voters skewed the results

    "We have to move on with the political process and start to work on the next election," he said.

    Millions of Sunni Arabs failed to vote in the polls, either because of fear or because many Sunni groups called for a boycott. In December, Pachachi called for a delay in the polls, but when this was rejected he decided to contest them.

    Pachachi said the failure of many Sunni Arabs to vote had skewed the results. "This affected the results of course and had a big effect on the Sunnis. We asked them not to boycott but they did, and now what can we do?"

    Pachachi said there would be hardly any representation for Sunni Arabs in the new National Assembly, and that secular parties had also fared poorly.

    "I am not satisfied with the result," he said.

    "After the seats are distributed we will see a small number for Sunni Arabs and also a small number of secular Iraqis," Pachachi said. "The image of Iraq that these results suggest is not real. That is obvious."

    New political contract

    Pachachi's observations were echoed by Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih in an interview with CNN television on Sunday.

    "Undoubtedly, that is a concern, but we have to all accept the challenge and make sure that we reach out to all the communities of Iraq, because as we build this new nation, as we embark on devising the new political contract in Iraq, we must emphasise inclusiveness, and we must reach out to all elements of society," Salih said.

    Barham Salih: We must reach out
    to all elements of Iraqi society

    "We cannot afford another era of conflict and turbulence. It's time Iraqis enjoyed stability and democracy, and that's what requires bringing all key players and all key communities on board, and we will do so," he said.

    Asked about the role of Iraqi Kurds, Salih said: "We will build a democratic nation that will be at peace with its people, including the Kurdish people."

    "The Kurdistan Alliance list will be nominating Jalal Talabani to the post of the president of Iraq, and we believe that he has the qualities of leadership and respectability to assume that position, and we are working with other blocs in the parliament that we anticipated will be represented there to make sure that will happen," Salih added.

    "And it will be important to emphasise, should a Kurd assume the top presidency slot in Iraq, it will be a statement about the direction of the new Iraqi state, that we want to have an Iraq in which the Kurds will not be treated as second-class citizens."

    Shifting alliances

    Giving his assessment of the election results, Jawdat al-Ubaidi, head of the Unified Democratic Iraq Congress, told Aljazeera on Sunday he saw two likely alliances in parliament, one centred around Iyad Allawi's secular list, the other around the Shia list blessed by Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani.

    With regard to Allawi's list, he said: "This group depends a great deal on the Kurdish side as there is an agreement to offer a high-ranking position, such as president or prime minister, to a Kurdish figure. This will a guarantee a good number of

    inside the National Society."

    Allawi will be hard put to hold
    on to the prime minister's post

    As for the Shia list, he said: "The nature of the alliance will depend on the Shia list, which commands a large number of seats.

    "The principal struggle will be between these two alliances. Most of the politically liberal, democratic and secular forces will back Allawi's list, while the Islamic candidates will support the Shia list.

    "The struggle will intensify in the coming days and differences will crop up, such as over allocation of such portfolios as defence, interior and foreign, because the leading political factions will all seek to bag the most powerful government posts."

    Al-Ubaidi said: "I believe there will be some ideological clashes over the writing of the draft constitution, and some political disputes over national trends.

    "But eventually, the draft constitution draft will be drawn up and the results will serve interests of Iraqis."

    Shia jubilant

    Predictably, Iraq's Shia were elated at their decisive electoral victory although they had to conceal their joy as Sunday's results coincided with their period of mourning to mark the anniversary of Imam Husain's death.

    "It's the choice of the people," a jubilant Ahmad Shabab Mahmud said after election officials announced the main coalition of Shia religious parties had won almost half of the vote in Iraq's historic 30 January polls.

    "I hope all the deputies will honour the aspirations of all Iraqis," added the 28-year-old tailor, as black-clad men lashed themselves with chains outside al-Kadhimiya mosque in Baghdad.

    Shia are elated at the decisive
    electoral victory of their list

    The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) backed by the country's top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, mustered almost half of the vote and is set to dominate the national assembly.

    "This list will serve our interests. Now that Saddam Hussein is gone, Iraq can only do better," said Abu Muhammad, a young Shia carrying a sword.

    Husain Abd al-Baqir, a 24-year-old engineer, argued that the list's main asset is that "it groups people who are capable of ruling Iraq, which wasn't the case under Saddam Hussein".

    Iraq's majority Shia, oppressed for so long under Saddam, have great expectations for the future, despite having endured a torrent of violence before the elections from armed anti-US groups bent on intimidating them into not voting.
    "We hope that this list will stop criminals entering our country," Muhammad Ali Abbas, a 48-year-old jeweller, said

    Historic significance

    Interviewed by Aljazeera on Sunday, Giles Keppel, the French author and expert on the Middle East, said: "I think the election is a first and a very good step, especially in comparison to what used to happen during the time of Saddam Hussein.

    "We have seen an event of historic significance with the announcement of the election results, for this has been the first free election in Iraq."

    Many fear the consequences of
    Sunnis' political marginalisation

    Speaking about the election results, he said they were notable for the long list of movements and obscure parties as also for something else.

    "We find that some people have voted for a particular sect while others voted for personalities. These tendencies will not lead to a flowering of a unified, democratic Iraqi society."

    According to Keppel, "there should be alliances among groups whether they are Shia, Sunni or Kurd for such an integrated political project to take shape. But this has not been achieved for now".

    "It is imperative that such experience be translated to form a democratic process in Iraq. 

    The path is still long. We have seen that Sunnis have been marginalised in these

    elections, a move that is unsafe for the future of Iraq and the future of the region,

    particularly the Gulf states," he said.

    European role

    Asked whether Sunnis who boycotted the election will play a role in the future of

    Iraq, Keppel said: "Sunnis should have a role at a future stage.

    The problem is how to get the majority of Sunnis to participate in the Iraqi democratic political society.

    As for the kind of role France and the European Union could play in Iraq, he said: "The French and European role is focused on helping Iraqis at the stage of political integration.

    "We, Europeans, are in a state of integration. We have good experience in this respect. We can also help Iraqis by training security forces which is an international project.

    We want to restore security to Iraq, for if Iraq 'explodes', the whole region will explode too."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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