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Shiite Islamists to shape new Iraq

The election gave a Shiite Islamist slate more than 47 percent, a Kurdish alliance 25 percent, and Allawi's list 14 percent.

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A slate packed with Shiite politicians who want Islam to govern much of Iraqi life rolled to victory in the country's first free election in 50 years. Its members will take almost half the seats in a 275-member national assembly that will write a new constitution.

The results of the Jan. 30 vote, released Sunday, confirm a profound political shift, with Iraq's majority Shiite Arabs - treated as second-class citizens under Saddam Hussein - finally translating their numerical weight into political power.

But where Iraq's transformation will lead remains uncertain. In addition to confirming the Shiite Arab dominance, the results showed abysmal turnout among the Sunni Arab minority who profited under Mr. Hussein and have driven the war against the US-led coalition and the interim government.

That leaves a Shiite-led government backed by the US military squaring off against a Sunni Arab-led insurgency that could cause Iraq's burgeoning civil strife to deepen. Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who leads the most extreme fringe of Iraq's diverse and decentralized insurgency, has repeatedly called for war with Iraq's Shiites.

Many Iraqi Shiites say they're hoping the new government will hit the insurgents hard once it takes power and controls positions in the Interior Ministry and the emerging Iraqi military.

"The new government has to be a lot tougher, fight force with more force,'' says Uday Allawi, a young policeman and Shiite in Baghdad.

Two other Iraqi policemen say the use of torture against captured Sunni insurgents has become routine.

Nagem Mohammed, a Shiite woman who works in a bookshop in central Baghdad, also wants a tough line.

"If the government is strong, not like Saddam, but strong, things will get better,'' she says. "They will control the security situation by not showing any mercy to the insurgents, even if they have to hang them."

Coming in second behind the religious Shiites' United Iraqi Alliance List (UIA), which will hold about 130 seats in the assembly, was an ethnic Kurdish list that took about 26 percent, or 70, of the seats. The party of the secular Shiite and US favorite Iyad Allawi came a distant third, with about 14 percent, or 38 seats.

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