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Last Updated: Monday, 14 February 2005, 15:32 GMT
Poll 'a vote for Iraq' say exiles
Voting card and ink-stained finger
UK Iraqis voted in exile
Political relationships are being forged in Iraq after election results showed the Shia alliance won nearly half the vote.

Members of the UK Iraqi community have told BBC News of their reaction to the result and their hopes for the future.

In the UK, 30,000 Iraqis joined exiles in 13 other countries who voted amid jubilant scenes on 30 January.

Their vote, as part of the 58% of Iraqis who took part, will decide the makeup of Iraq's new National Assembly.

The election result is good for Iraq as voters put the country first, Ali Al-Bayati, London head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) said.

'All inclusive'

"The people have voted for Iraq and for the dictatorship not to come back again," he said.

He felt the split of 48% for the Shia alliance, 14% for a secular list led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and 26% for ethnic Kurdish parties was "a fair result".

Some commentators and media reports have expressed concern one party will dominate and Iraq will face sectarian strife.

Jabbar Hasan
Hopefully this person can lead the country into democracy
Jabbar Hasan

But Mr Al-Bayati was confident a range of representatives would be drawn from all of Iraqi society, including minority Sunnis.

"For anybody who's got to form a government, it's got to include all the Iraqis," he said.

He felt any new constitution would respect Islam and democracy, as set out under interim administration law.

"People in the Middle East basically are conservative Muslim people," he said, "but that doesn't mean we are going to have Sharia Law or a Muslim government."

He stressed security was the priority for the new government - as violent attacks in Iraq continued - followed by unemployment.

"If security can be achieved, unemployment will resolve itself," he said.

'No puppet government'

The Iraqi national assembly will elect a president and two deputies, who in turn must select a prime minister responsible for the day-to-day running of Iraq.

These new figureheads must drive Iraq forward, said Iraqi Community Association director Jabbar Hasan.

And he said he accepted the people now touted to take the posts may not be his first choice.

14-16 February: Complaints dealt with
Early March: PM appointed
Late March: Government formed
15 August: Draft constitution (six-month extension possible)
15 October: Possible referendum on constitution
By 15 December: Elections for government

"It's the reality. I would have liked to have somebody else, but we have to respect the will of the people.

"We have had enough of wars and fighting, mass graves and chemical attacks.

"Hopefully this person can lead the country into democracy - that's all we can say at this time."

He felt the turnout - at 58% according to Iraq's election commission - gave the result legitimacy.

"The new government can say 'we are not the occupying power or a puppet government - we are elected by the people'."

Women to fore

The Shia United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) won nearly half the vote and is backed by Iraq's most senior Shia Muslim cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Mr Hasan said there were concerns about the Shia alliance, but there would have to be compromises and cooperation between groups.

Under the election system, 25% of the seats in the new Iraqi assembly must go to women. Every third candidate on election lists had to be a woman to try to reach the quota.

Security men by an election poster in Basra
Voters say security is key

Hanna Field, director of the Iraqi Welfare Association, said this election marked the chance for women to participate fully in Iraqi public life.

"Women are professional and brave," she said. "Even in the period since the war they were actively doing their jobs.

"They lost so many members of their family, colleagues and friends.

"You can see from their personality, their attitude - what happened to them didn't put them off - these sorts of women we need them to rebuild Iraq."

She said peace was now more likely in Iraq because it is in each group's interest to ensure security on the ground.

Kurdish hopes

After the Kurdistan Alliance secured 26% of the vote, Kurdish groups are seen by some as potential coalition partners for the main bloc.

For Soran Hamarash, a housing and welfare adviser at the Kurdish Cultural Centre in south London, this is a time of optimism.

"Kurdish people are very happy about the result, because our presence has been denied previously."

Kurdish people are very positive - they look forward
Soran Hamarash

"We showed our unity and we showed to the rest of Iraq that we are important," he said.

But he said coming to agreements would not be easy.

Kurdish hopes for a federal Iraq that recognised differences between the more Shia south, Sunni central Iraq and northern Kurdish areas could be a stumbling block, he said.

Where some Shias wanted Islam as the source of the new constitution, he said Kurds wanted nationalism and secularism to be the driving force.

And there were issues over the make-up of Kurdistan and Kirkuk.

But he added: "The difficult part has passed - despite the terrorist threats, parties agree that there is a way ahead.

"That's what I see, but it's not easy.

"Kurdish people are very positive - they look forward."

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