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The Iraqi Vote and its Implications

The election in Iraq appears to have strengthened the citizens' will and closed some long held divisions. The emerging trend of the Iraqi vote suggests moderation and compromise at all levels. But, in spite of some unexpected results, the big issue remains the ethnic and confessional partitioning of the country. The four major electoral coalitions are now sharing the bulk of the 325 seats of a parliament which nominates the government and also elects the president.

Al-Iraqiyah, the alliance led by former prime minister Iyad Allawi, was voted both by the Sunnis and the Shiites, and became the first party by obtaining 91 seats. While claiming itself as a secular and nationalist formation, it was in fact prevalently voted by Sunnis from the Sunni triangle, which is situated in central Iraq. Allawi, shia and ex-Baathist, as winner has stated that he's ready to arrange talks with all the parties involved.

The State of Law, the coalition of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who is currently in office, finished second and obtained 89 seats. Although Al-Maliki showed signs of departure from the confessional schemes and benefited from his erstwhile control over the bureaucratic machinery of state, his electoral base will remain the shiite one linked to the Da'wah (Invitation) party. Maliki said that he's willing to press for a coalition government.

Ammar Hakim's National Alliance coalition, which unites the religious parties of SCIRI (Supreme Islamic Council), Da'wah, the former premier Jafari's wing, Moqtada SADR's followers, Fadillah (Virtue), has obtained 70 seats, thus coming up with less seats than it had collectively in the previous Parliament. This coalition is the most ideological of the electoral contenders and aims to represent different positions inside the Najaf and Qom's shiite clergy.

The Kurdish coalition which unites two of the biggest regional parties of Kurdistan, the Barzani's PDK (Democratic Party), and the UPK (Patrioctic Union of Kurdistan) leaded by president Talabani, obtained 43 seats. The rest of the votes has been shared by Goran who asks for the "change" and by small parties and minority representatives.

After protests concerning the recounting of the votes, the premier Al-Maliki and Ammar Hakim have accepted the electoral results. In spite of the threats and the boycott of al-Qaeda, the high turn-out was a success for international institutions like the UN who defined the election fair and transparent, and for the Iraqi citizens including their most representative figure, Ayatollah Sistani, who exhorted people to go and cast their ballots.

The government also marked a success by ensuring free elections, and accepting the unfavorable results. Obama's administration which is still working according to ways of thinking inherited by the Bush administration, obtained an important result in order to guarantee a free vote, keep its military units in their bases, and respecting people's will. Iraq's vote is a victory for democracy, which despite all the troubles starts to be a recognized concept even in those areas where the democratic institutions are just figurative and strong traditional powers are usually not respectfully for democracy. The vote moved democratic mechanisms against these powers, whose self-preservation resembles mummification.

The only ones who have failed are Al-qaeda and its supporters, because this time the Sunnis, have participated massively in the elections as well. Even the Arab governments across the region shall be happy with the victory of Allawi's list. The Arabic regimes showed themselves ready to accept the will of Iraqi voters and the benefit of democratic elections, even though the concept is not present within their own borders.

But the success of the vote will not easily translate into a new government, considering the seats distribution. It will probably take a very long time until the parties reach an agreement for the new government. Allawi's coalition, in spite of victory, does not have immediate allies in order to reach sufficient numbers to govern. Even if the coalition of Hakim would give some signs of availability in recent days.

It doesn't appear that the key players of post-Saddam, equipped as they are by strong motivations, will be ready to accept the return to power of the Baathists. A. Chalabi, of the National Congress, is already at work in order to convince Al-Maliki and Ammar Hakim (sadrists and other shiites groups) to create a new parliamentary group and to form the new government with the Kurds, which would include some members of the winning Allawi coalition and moderate sunnis.

Prior to the vote, Allawi stated in an article posted on the Iran Diplomacy website (which is run by the former Iranian ambassador to Paris, Sadeq Kharrazi) that he has attempted to assuage Tehran's establishment on his nationalist policy. Allawi wrote that his intention was to visit Tehran irrespective of the outcome of the elections upon invitation of his Iranian counterpart (not specified). Allawi knows that the relationship with Iran does not involve only the actual elite in power in Tehran, but on the whole Iran has possessed vast relations at different levels with its close neighbor, Iraq.

In the wake of electoral results, the president in office, the Kurd Jalal Talabani, has gone to Tehran, officially to take part in the Persian new year celebrations jointly celebrated by Kurds and Iranians, but de facto to indicate the importance that the relationship with Iran has on political balances within Iraq, and to make them understand that a return of the Ba'ath legacy is not on the table. With this vote, at any rate, Baghdad is distancing itself a step further from Tehran.

Allawi's list success is not only due to the support of Arab governments and the Sunni vote, but it is also due to the desire by secular shiites for overcoming sectarianism. The non sectarian trend led Al-Maliki to embrace the concept of the centrality of law during his term in office and to form the "State of Law" coalition. Even Ammar Hakim's coalition is partially under the influence of Najaf's clergy, who, under the leadership of Ayatollah Sistani, refused to take control over temporal, or political, power in favor of retaining its powers and prerogatives in the spiritual realm. Sistani furthermore seems to fully comprehend the reasons of democracy and stability in the region.

President Obama obtains a success from these elections, defined transparent by prime minister Al-Maliki despite his missed success, due to being respectful of the popular will. Despite this, Obama knows that he cannot triumph singlehandedly. Tehran keeps playing its card based on numbers (the shiites - Kurdish majority) but is conscious that it cannot go over well-placed limits. In the Iraqi arena Washington and Tehran are therefore watching each other with extreme caution, and play a very calculated game. The two contenders are conscious that the true game is about the whole Middle East, the entire energetic area and the future geopolitical balances.

The Obama administration has already indicated an exit strategy to get out of Iraq, but it also knows that the US establishment wants a favorable outcome for Washington, which is already present all over the region. That is difficult to implement without seeking a solution for the Middle East conflicts (see the Baker-Hamilton report) like the Arab-Israeli one, and without considering the Iran's instances given that many peoples of the Iraq and the Middle East maintain deep ties with Iran at different levels. Tehran needs, on the other, to maintain a balanced posture in its regional foreign policy despite the difficulties currently faced by Washington in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At same time, China and Russia, which maintain a comprehensive policy towards Tehran, are making advances in the area. Europe's role was effectively reduced in the area after the the Iraqi campaign. The European presence in the area is still inside and around Iran, where the USA are absent and willing to re-enter.

The globalization process has made every local and regional political game the reflection of global balances. After Saudi Arabia, Iraq possesses the second largest hydrocarbon reserves in the world, perhaps even the first, according to some reliable sources. The Iraqi vote should be therefore read and interpreted at the light of these equilibriums.