Iraqi vote points to Islamist path
Early returns reveal that Shiites and Sunnis opted for religious parties.
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Today's shift toward Islamic parties, says Thabit A. J. Abdullah, a history professor at York University in Toronto, has grown in part as a backlash against that period, as well as a reaction to the postwar turmoil since Mr. Hussein's overthrow by US forces in April 2003.Skip to next paragraph
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Professor Abdullah, a native of Baghdad, recently returned to find sectarian divisions palpable at a level that didn't exist 25 or 30 years ago.
He points to the US decision to dissolve the Iraqi Army after the invasion and the ensuing social disorder as an example of why many Iraqis have turned to religious leaders: They have been one of the few constant comforts in a sea of upheaval.
"Whatever kind of a national fabric - the Army, the police - was done away with, there was nothing to fill that vacuum. Nothing replaced it. So, people will look to those leaders who stood by them through their decades of need - at the mosque," he says.
Abdullah says it was unrealistic for the US to assume that Hussein would be replaced with a government that would put a premium on Western ideals, or that a critical mass of Iraqis would choose an overtly pro-US leader who promised to stay out of the sectarian fray.
"Anyone who expected secular democracy and liberal, Western values to suddenly become ingrained in the Iraqi psyche is totally deluding himself," he says.
The Shiite coalition that is likely to determine the configuration of Iraq's next government is made up of several parties that don't necessarily agree with one another's outlook, for example, on the role of the clergy in politics.
That ticket, known as 555, did extraordinarily well in the south - winning over 77 percent of the vote in Basra. But newspapers in Baghdad have carried stories of voter manipulation in those areas, telling of instances in which voters were met at the polling stations by officials asking them to put a hand over the Koran and swear to vote for the Shiite religious ticket.
Kurdish parties, meanwhile, garnered an overwhelming majority in northern Iraq.
Mr. Khalilzad, giving a year-end press conference, acknowledged that most Iraqis preferred to cast votes along sectarian and ethnic lines. "But for Iraq to succeed," he warned, "there has to be a cross-sectarian cooperation." Too heavy of a focus on sectarian ties, he said, "undercuts prospects for success."
With growing protests and the threat of a Sunni walkout looming, the hard work of coalition building has hardly begun.
But many here are trying to work out the permeations. While the Shiite religious politicians seem most likely to turn first to their recent allies in the Kurdish parties, there is also speculation that Iraq could see the emergence of an Islamic coalition that would unite Sunnis and Shiites.
Another scenario includes the possibility of disgruntled Sunni Arabs and Kurds allying themselves with Allawi to form a multiparty coalition to prevent Shiites from assuming power.
And as the election results roll in, still other options exist.
The wider the Shiite victory, the less they will need coalition partners to control the 275-seat parliament for the next four years.