Shiite Coalition Takes Big Lead in Early Iraq Vote Count
Preliminary election returns released Thursday by Iraqi authorities showed that 72 percent of the 1.6 million votes counted so far from Sunday’s election went to an alliance of Shiite parties dominated by religious groups with strong links to Iran. Only 18 percent went to a group led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who favors strong ties to the United States. Few votes went to Sunni candidates. Although the early votes were drawn only from Baghdad and from five southern provinces where the Shiite parties were expected to score strongly, and from only 10 percent of the 5,216 polling stations, the scale of the vote for both religious and secular Shiites underscored the probability of a crushing triumph and a historic shift from decades of Sunni minority rule in Iraq.
The religious alliance, an amalgam of political parties and independents forged by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country’s most powerful religious leader, took nearly 1.2 million votes, more than a third of them in Baghdad, against about 295,000 for the coalition led by Dr. Allawi.
The scale of the lead held by the Shiites and the possibility of their coalition with the Kurds seemed certain to cause anxiety among Sunnis, who largely boycotted the election and remain deeply suspicious of the emerging Shiite dominance. Indeed, some Sunni leaders said the Shiites’ strong showing so far validated the deep sense of alienation felt by the Sunnis. “The Shia were determined and encouraged their supporters to vote and to register, and the Sunnis didn’t care that much, either out of fear or apathy,” said Adnan Pachachi, 82, a foreign minister in the years before Saddam Hussein and a prominent Sunni leader. “This is the story really.”
But signs also emerged on Thursday that some Sunni leaders were ready to involve themselves at least in a limited way in the political debate. The leaders of 13 mostly Sunni political parties that stayed out of the election had agreed Monday that they would take part in writing the constitution, the next step in the establishment of a new Iraqi state.
It’s hardly surprising that the faction representing the vast majority of Iraqis won the election, although it is a stunning swing from their previous election, where incumbent Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, won an incredible 100% of the votes cast.