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Arab neighbors cast a wary eye on Iraq election results

With the first Iraq election results coming in, Middle East countries are watching close and gauging what the vote means for their influence on the oil-rich state.

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Western enthusiasm 'premature'

Others across the region were more disinterested than worried, viewing US praise of the election as somewhat naïve and saying one election will not cause a huge political shift, or even much of a difference at all.

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"Right now, the Egyptians are not interested in Iraq," said Ahmed Khalifa, a newspaper seller in Cairo. "The important things are Palestine, Gaza. Iraq doesn't affect us."

Samir Al Taqi, director of the Orient Center for International Studies in Damascus, called Western enthusiasm over the elections "premature." Before observers come to any conclusions about the election, he says they must first see if the new government is representative of Iraq’s different ethnic groups. If not, violence and instability are likely to continue.

"The Iraqi elections were a decisive step in Iraq’s path towards nation building. But we can’t yet judge whether they were a success and will move Iraq forward," he says.

And even if the election is proved a relative success, it will not mean an end to the country’s problems, says Ahmad Said Nufal, a political science professor at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan. He predicts that his country and others such as Syria and Turkey will likely be hosting Iraqi refugees for years to come.

"I don’t think the election in Iraq will change anything. The problems between the parties will continue and at the same time terrorist attacks in Iraq will continue,” says Mr. Nufal. “We need two or three years to be sure before we say that [displaced] people can return back to Iraq."

Jordanians, Syrians want stability

Some Jordanians are hoping Iraq is stabilizing, providing business opportunities in the sprawling nation next door.

"If after the elections everything goes smoothly, it will affect us positively. People will start to do more business with Iraq and it will be more open between the two countries," says Georgette Fattaleh, a pharmacist in Amman. "But no one in Jordan thinks the elections will change Iraq. Now at the White House they are very happy about these elections, but it will not help."

In Syria, some hope a positive outcome to the elections will bring more stability to the region.

Amer Kasser, a telecommunications professional in Damascus, said it was positive to see a democracy emerging in the region and he hoped the government that emerges from the election would be strong enough to bring stability to Iraq.

Haifa Mohammad Said, a translator and editor at the Syrian Arab News Agency, also said she hoped the elections would be a positive step for the region, and allow Syria and Iraq to resolve border and refugee issues.

"The elections will hopefully help to do that," she says. "Whether this will happen or not depends on the results and whether there have been clean elections. Even so, Iraq still has a long way to go to get back on its feet."

Sarah Birke contributed to this report from Damascus, Syria.

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