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Next in Iraq: coalition-building

The new government must finalize the constitution and manage reconstruction.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 19, 2005


With a remarkably calm day at the ballot box behind them, Iraqis have begun the far less placid process of tallying up which group emerges as the biggest bloc - and with the clout to chart the country's course for the next four years.

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The new government, when it is formed - it took politicians three months after January's vote to agree on a coalition - will immediately face monumental challenges including finalizing a constitution, building up Iraqi security forces able to replace US troops fighting the insurgency, and managing reconstruction projects that have generally been American-run affairs.

The next government, which looks likely to be headed by many of the same Shiite leaders who have been at the helm of the interim government, will also confront the need to prove that it can represent all Iraqis, not just sectarian interests.

The United Iraqi Alliance, a group of Shiite religious parties at the helm of the current interim government, has been quick to claim itself the victor, raising concerns that parties are making premature predictions and not waiting for definitive results, which could take up to two weeks.

That, along with various parties' claims of voting irregularities and complaints from Sunnis that their districts have not been allotted an appropriate number of seats, is expected to encumber efforts to form the government that will probably oversee a gradual decline in the US presence here. "I bless this victory for the alliance list," said Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafaari over the weekend.

Still, most here acknowledge that initial results indicate that the Shiite list will walk away with the lion's share of votes - though without an actual majority. Some 70 percent of Iraq's 15 million registered voters participated in Thursday's largely peaceful election. Violence resumed Sunday, with a number of attacks in Iraqi cities, including two suicide bombings in Baghdad.

Redha Taki, head of the political bureau of SCIRI, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, estimates that the Shiite list will win 120 to 130 of the 275 available seats. The Shiite coalition made its estimates, he says, based on reports sent back to the head office by its more than 20,000 election monitors.

"Thank God, we feel very happy at the success we've had," says Mr. Taki, sitting in his office at SCIRI's headquarters while the party's TV channel, Al-Furat - the third-most popular station in Iraq, according to a recent survey - plays behind him. The station, just a year old, "played an active role in the propaganda in this campaign," he says.

But more important, he says, their leaders spoke to supporters face to face, something other candidates, he asserts, failed to do because of security concerns.

With such healthy numbers, he says, the Shiite list would only need to form a coalition with a partner who could bring another 10 seats to the table in order to form a majority. In that scenario, the religious Shiites and Kurds could form an alliance that would keep out Sunnis, who are already disgruntled with the process.