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Democrats praise Iraq's elections

But warn outcome may be skewed toward majority Shiites
Ike Skelton
Iraqi elections
Democratic Party

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democrats praised Iraq's nationwide elections as "a great day for many."

But Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, speaking on behalf of the Democratic Party in Saturday's weekly radio address, warned the outcome of Sunday's vote may be skewed in favor of the country's Shiite majority and "will likely not be completely representative of all ethnic and religious groups."

"The Shia will likely control a significant majority of assembly seats, with considerable Kurdish participation," he said. "The Sunnis, on the other hand, are likely to be underrepresented and may denounce the legitimacy of the new government."

The minority Sunni Arabs dominated under Saddam's rule but fear the election will benefit the majority Shiites.

Skelton, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said if Shiites do win a majority, "it will be tempting to question what we could have done differently for the last two years that would have yielded a better outcome."

"What if the United States hadn't disbanded the Iraqi Army? What if the administration had listened to commanders like former Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, who called for a larger force for postwar stabilization? What if the reconstruction funds appropriated by Congress had been spent more quickly to provide more economic opportunity for the average Iraqi?"

The congressman said he raised such "critical questions" to President Bush before the war, and they should have been considered before U.S. involvement in Iraq.

"But now we must use the elections as a building block for a new, permanent, representative form of government in Iraq," Skelton said.

He also praised the "sacrifice, professionalism, and courage of the 150,000 American and coalition troops who are backing the Iraqis' desire for self-determination, and whose presence in Iraq will be necessary for some time to come."

But, he added, the "small number of fully capable" Iraqi forces must be trained to take over for U.S. forces.

"Providing capable security forces loyal to the Iraqi government is a long-term effort, but it is a critical piece of the success of the government there and of the eventual withdrawal of our troops," Skelton said.

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