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Iraq Transition

U.S. lawmakers: Iraqi vote gives minorities influence

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The United Iraq Alliance, backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, wins plurality.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraq's minority coalitions have a chance to strongly influence formation of the nation's new government, two key members of the U.S. Senate said on Sunday.

Results were announced Sunday for the January 30 elections to create a 275-member National Assembly. The Shiite-supported United Iraqi Alliance took more votes than any other party -- but failed to win a majority, election officials said.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, said he didn't expect the UIA to move toward a theocratic government.

"I think there will be broad participation in the national assembly," Frist said. "Minorities will be represented. There's been reaching out to Kurds and the Sunnis in construction of the constitution that will continue."

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, agreed and stressed the importance of that outreach.

"I think it gives suits and not the turbans -- the way it's referred to in the Shiite sector -- an opportunity to make their case that they have to, in fact, bring in specifically Sunnis into the Cabinet," Biden said on "Fox News Sunday."

"They're going to have to see more Sunnis brought into the constitution-writing if there's going to be any legitimacy at the end of the day," Biden said. "And I think we'll see that."

White House spokesman Taylor Goss issued a statement calling the election "a positive and significant accomplishment" and congratulating the candidates and the Iraqi people.

"We also commend the independent electoral commission to Iraq and the U.N. election advisers for their excellent work and successfully organizing free, fair and transparent elections in the face of numerous obstacles," Goss said.

Frist said Shiite Muslim Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was "a big winner" in the historic vote. Al-Sistani, the UIA's chief backer, supported the elections and is considered by many to be the most revered and most influential leader among Iraq's 15 million Shiite Muslims. Now in his 70s, he was born in Iran and moved to Iraq to study in Najaf, where Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini spent years of exile. (Full story)

Frist said that the Shiite-backed UIA's failure to achieve a majority "is the one remarkable piece of information."

The Independent Electoral Commission announced "final uncertified" results Sunday and said political parties had three days to challenge the vote. The uncertified results gave the UIA about 48 percent of the vote, nearly double that of its nearest rival, the combined Kurdish parties.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's group -- Iraqi list -- was in third place with about 14 percent.

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, said he'd spoken with representatives of UIA and they're "unlikely to ask Allawi to continue."

"They say they want one of their own," Rangel said. "The other candidates felt Allawi excluded them from the campaign ... it's unlikely he'll continue in the new government."

Allawi was expected to wrangle with the other parties, which along with his group, will have to build a coalition. A coalition will need to control two-thirds of the assembly to form a government.

Shiites make up about 60 percent of Iraq's population and were persecuted under the regime of Saddam Hussein, who is a Sunni Muslim. Sunni Arabs comprise about 20 percent of Iraq's 25 million people.

The National Assembly's two-thirds vote requirement means that a coalition cannot form a government without the UIA's 48 percent plurality, giving the Shiites a strong hand. But without Sunni participation, Biden said, "there will be no legitimacy to the constitution."

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