Tue, Feb 01, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Allawi urges Iraq to work for better future

NEW VOICE Amid scenes of jubilation across Iraq, an official said participation by the Sunni minority in the election was limited and could pose more problems

AGENCIES , BAGHDAD

Iraq's interim leader called on his countrymen yesterday to set aside their differences after the weekend's historic election. But a US official acknowledged that participation by Sunni Arab voters was low -- raising fears that the group that drives the insurgency could grow ever more alienated.

"Starting from [yesterday], I will begin a new national dialogue to ensure all Iraqis have a voice in the new government," interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said, speaking at a conference center once used by former president Saddam Hussein and his officials.

"The whole world is watching us. As we worked together yesterday to finish dictatorship, let us work together towards a bright future -- Sunnis and Shiites, Muslims and Christians, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen," Allawi said.

A day after the vote, jubilant Iraqis sifted through ballots, tallying the results of an election that millions hoped would lead to democracy and hasten the departure of 150,000 American troops. In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, election workers counted ballots by the glow of an oil lamp.

In his first news conference since the elections, Allawi called on Iraqis to join together to build a society shattered by decades of war, tyranny, economic sanctions and military occupation.

"The terrorists now know that they cannot win," he said yesterday.

Final results of Sunday's election aren't expected for days, but the country is already focusing on goals almost as challenging as the election itself: Forming a new governing coalition, then writing a constitution and winning trust. Some fear the vote outcome could further alienate the once-powerful Sunni Muslim minority -- many of whom apparently stayed away from the polls.

Although turnout figures were unavailable, a US diplomat, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said "good anecdotal information" indicated that "Sunni participation was considerably lower than participation by the other groups, especially in areas which have seen a great deal of violence."

The electoral commission said it believed that turnout overall among the estimated 14 million eligible Iraqi voters appeared higher than the 57 percent, or roughly 8 million, that had been predicted before the vote. But it would be some time before any precise turnout figure was confirmed, they said.

"Now I feel that Saddam is really gone," said Fatima Ibrahim, smiling as she headed home after voting in Irbil, in the Kurdish northern region.

She was 14 and a bride of just three months when her husband, father and brother were rounded up in a campaign of ethnic cleansing under Saddam. None have ever been found.

The absence of any catastrophic single attack on Sunday seemed at least partly a result of the heavy security measures, including a ban on most private cars.

Yesterday, vehicles again wove their way down Baghdad's streets, and most of the nation was calm. But most traffic was still being blocked from crossing the city's main bridges, indicating security was still in place.

It was still unclear if the successful vote would deal a significant blow to the insurgents, or rather lead to a short-term rise in violence. The militants might need time to regroup after the spate of attacks they launched in the weeks before the vote.

The election was hailed as a success around the globe, with US President George W. Bush declaring: "The world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East."

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