Shiites Tally Most Iraqi Votes

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BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims won nearly half the votes in the nation's landmark Jan. 30 election, giving the long-oppressed group significant power but not enough to form a government on its own, according to results released Sunday.

The Shiites likely will have to form a coalition in the 275-member National Assembly with the other top vote-getters -- the Kurds and Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's list -- to push through their agenda and select a president and prime minister. The president and two vice presidents must be elected by a two-thirds majority.

"This is a new birth for Iraq," Iraqi election commission spokesman Farid Ayar said as he announced results. Iraqi voters "became a legend in their confrontation with terrorists."

Minority Sunni groups, which largely boycotted voting booths and form the core of the insurgency, rejected the election -- raising the prospect of continued violence as Iraqis try to rebuild their country.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera television, Mohammed Bashar of the anti-American Association of Muslim Scholars said the fact that there were no international or U.N. monitors in Iraq made him question the figures.

"Those who boycotted the elections are more than those who took part in it," he said. "Boycotting the election does not mean that the boycotter will renounce his rights."

The Shiite-dominated ticket received more than 4 million votes, or about 48 percent of the total cast, Iraqi election officials said. A Kurdish alliance was second with 2.175 million votes, or 26 percent, and Allawi's list was third with about 1.168 million, or 13.8 percent.

Of Iraq's 14 million eligible voters, 8,550,571 cast ballots for 111 candidate lists, the commission said. About 94,305 were declared invalid. The Iraqi Electoral Commission said the turnout was 58 percent.

Assuming the total vote tally doesn't change, a party will need 30,750 votes to win a seat in the National Assembly. Only 12 parties have made the threshold, under the provisional results.

Once the results are certified, a complex mathematical formula will determine how many seats each of those parties will receive.

In the ethnically mixed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, Kurds took to the streets to celebrate the results. Cars sped through the streets blaring their horns and waving flags of Kurdistan.

Since Saddam Hussein's ouster, Kurdish leaders have focused on influencing political decisions in Baghdad with the aim of reinforcing autonomy in their northern provinces.

"I'm a Kurd. I'm the mother of a martyr. I feel like he has come back to life. We have a chance now," said Shamsa Saleh, 57, carrying a Kurdish flag in her hand.

People crowded the street and police patrolled to keep the peace.

The figures also indicate that many Sunni Arabs stayed at home on election day, either out of fear of insurgent attacks or opposition to a vote with thousands of U.S. and foreign soldiers on Iraqi soil.

In Anbar province, a stronghold of the Sunni Muslim insurgency, only 17,893 votes were cast in the National Assembly race -- a turnout of 2 percent.

In Ninevah province, which includes the third-largest city, Mosul, only 17 percent of the voters participated in the National Assembly race and 14 percent voted in the provincial council contests.

A ticket headed by the country's president Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni Arab, won only about 150,000 votes -- less than 2 percent. A list headed by Sunni elder statesman Adnan Pachachi took only 12,000 votes -- or 0.1 percent.

Pachachi told Al-Arabiya television it was clear that "a big number of Iraqis" did not participate in the election, and "there are some who are not correctly and adequately represented in the National Assembly" -- meaning his fellow Sunni Arabs.

"However, the elections are correct and a first step and we should concentrate our attention to drafting the constitution which should be written by all Iraqi factions in preparation for wider elections."

Parties have three days to lodge complaints before the results are considered official and assembly seats are allocated, the election commission said.

"Until now there is no estimation regarding how many seats the political parties will get. When the counts are final the number of seats will be divided according to the number of votes," commission member Adel al-Lami said.

The balloting was the first free election in Iraq in more than 50 years and the first since Saddam was ousted from power after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Voters chose the National Assembly and ruling councils in the country's 18 provinces. Iraqis living in Kurdish-ruled areas of northern Iraq also elected a new regional parliament.

About 1.2 million Iraqis living abroad were eligible to vote in 14 nations. More than 265,000 of those Iraqis cast ballots in the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey and United Arab Emirates.

In the United States, where more than 24,000 Iraqis cast ballots, the alliance was strongest with more than 31 percent, while Allawi's list came in sixth with about 4 percent -- finishing not only behind the Kurds but also behind two tiny Assyrian Christian parties and a communist-led party.