Fri, Feb 18, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Iraqi Shiites win majority

COALITION The results of the historic election in Iraq were confirmed yesterday, but a deal on who would become the nation's prime minister did not materialize

AGENCIES , BAGHDAD, IRAQ

Shiite followers begin to pray outside the holy shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala, Iraq, Wednesday in the lead-up to the day of Ashoura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram which started last Thursday. Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, was beheaded in Karbala in 680 AD in a battle over the line of succession to the Prophet Mohammed, and the event is celebrated by Shiites today as the festival of Ashoura.

PHOTO: AP

Iraq's Shiite alliance won a slim majority of seats in the country's new National Assembly, the Iraqi Electoral Commission said yesterday, based on final results from last month's historic election.

The United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of mainly Shiite Islamist religious parties, had been allocated 140 seats in the 275-seat National Assembly, the Commission said in a statement.

Around 8.5 million votes were cast, representing a turnout of some 58 percent of the more than 14 million eligible voters.

A combined Kurdish bloc, which polled the second highest number of votes in the Jan. 30 ballot, won 75 seats and the list led by US-backed interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, got 40 seats, the Electoral Commission said.

A two-thirds majority is required to approve the appointment of a president and two vice-presidents, the next step in the process. The Shiite alliance and Kurdish bloc could together form such a majority and are expected to do so.

The Alliance polled around 48 percent of the national vote -- somewhat less than the 60 percent that they had hoped for. The Kurds won almost 26 percent and Allawi received around 14 percent.

Because dozens of parties failed to muster enough votes to gain any seats, those parties that were elected to parliament have a larger share of seats than their share of the vote.

However. top Shiite politicians failed to reach a consensus on their nominee for prime minister, shifting the two-man race to a secret ballot and exposing divisions in the winning alliance. In a chilling reminder of challenges facing the winner, a videotape showed a sobbing Italian hostage pleading for her life.

Meanwhile, a US soldier assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force was killed in action Tuesday in western Iraq, a soldier died of a non-combat injury Wednesday at a base near Tikrit, and four soldiers died in vehicle accidents, the military announced.

In addition, the bodies of eight Iraqis described as collaborators with US forces were found in a desert area north of Baghdad.

The case of the captive Italian journalist took an alarming turn Wednesday, as a videotape delivered anonymously to Associated Press Television News showed Giuliana Sgrena speaking in both French and Italian as she pleaded for the Italian government to withdraw its troops.

"You must end the occupation, it's the only way we can get out of this situation," the 56-year-old journalist for the communist daily Il Manifesto pleaded. There was no indication when the tape was made, and the words "Mujahedeen Without Borders" appeared in digital red Arabic script on the video. The group was previously unknown.

The video was released hours before the Italian Senate voted to extend Italy's troop deployment through June. Il Manifesto strongly opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq and has fiercely criticized Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi's decision to deploy 3,000 troops in the US-led multinational force in Iraq.

At one point Sgrena broke into tears on the videotape, saying: "Show all the pictures I have taken of the Iraqis, of the children hit by the cluster bombs, of the women. ... Help me, help me to demand the withdrawal of the troops, help me spare my life."

Sgrena was kidnapped Feb. 4 by gunmen outside a mosque in Baghdad.

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