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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 February, 2005, 19:12 GMT
Sunni share of power is critical
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs Correspondent, BBC News website

Iraq's long oppressed Shia majority is heading for a dominant position following the announcement of the 30 January election results.

A US soldier stands by the charred remains of a car
The continuing violence is a reminder of the fragility of Iraq's young democracy

But unless the Sunnis are brought into the political process, the task of democratisation will be jeopardised and the effort to suppress the insurgency threatened.

The results are more or less what was expected - and show what a huge task remains.

The United Iraqi Alliance, the Shia-led list approved by Ayatollah Ali Sistani, took more than 47% of the vote.

In second place were the Kurds, with their united list, which received 25%,and in third place was the list of the secular Shia and interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

The results do not give the Shia list total power.

The first task of the national assembly will be to elect a three-person presidency council and that has to have two-thirds approval, so there will have to be some coalition-making.

The Sunnis were either excluded from the election by the violence or excluded themselves by their boycott.

Elections do not bring peace by themselves in a time of civil war, and a civil war on a grand scale is what the rebels are trying to instigate

And since the insurgency is Sunni-inspired, they will have to be placated or the country will not be pacified.

How is this to be done?

It is important to remember that the national assembly is only a transitional body. In fact its title is the "transitional national assembly".

New constitution

The assembly's main task, other than that of government, is to draw up a new constitution and prepare the way for full elections in December.

It is therefore supposed to function only for about nine months, and it is its temporary nature that will now be one of its virtues.

That is because it will be able to draw in Sunni representatives, first into the government itself, and then more significantly into the procedures under which the constitution will be written.

In fact, it is not only important for the Sunnis to be involved. It is vital.

That is because a referendum on the constitution is due to take place in October, and the Sunnis could block it by getting two-thirds of voters in three provinces to oppose it.

If the constitutional talks get into trouble, there could be a six-month delay before a referendum.

And if the referendum says no, the whole process will go through another cycle beginning with elections again in December.

That gives the Sunnis quite a bargaining chip if they choose to use it.

A senior British official monitoring Iraq said there was no reason why this recent election should be "divisive."

"The task will be to correct the imperfections of the election," he said.

Defeating the insurgency

This could be done by bringing in Sunni representatives to the drafting committees and by the prime minister, who will be the most powerful figure in the new government, giving ministries to Sunni leaders.

But all this will be put at risk if the new government does not get to grips with the insurgency.

And the message from the Americans now is that it is up to the Iraqis themselves.

On his recent visit to Iraq, confined to a US base, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld conceded that US troops could not do the job.

"It is the Iraqis who will have to over time defeat the insurgency," he remarked.

Elections do not bring peace by themselves in a time of civil war, and a civil war on a grand scale is what the rebels are trying to instigate.

We saw that in El Salvador in 1982, when voters crammed into the polling booths while guerrillas were being hit by helicopter gunships on the volcanoes that surround the capital San Salvador.

The elections went off successfully. The civil war went on for another eight years.


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