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24,001,816 (July 2002 est.)


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Update No: 022 - (22/02/05)

End of secular Iraq?
The Iraqi elections of January 2005 were successful in general terms, but disappointed many. The only real winners were the Kurdish alliance, which took 75 seats and went very close to fulfilling its electoral potential. The Shiite list sponsored by Ayatollah Al-Sistani was the official winner of these elections, but its 48% fell somewhat short of the expectations of its promoters and denied the full legitimisation that would have derived by a 50+% victory. The Allawi list, with under 14%, failed to gain enough votes to prevent the Shiite religious list from having a majority in parliament, even if their majority remains quite thin (140 seats out of 275). All the other parties failed to achieve much, especially the secular ones. An obvious conclusion to be drawn is that Iraq's long-standing secular traditions are a thing of the past. Much of Allawi's votes appeared to be due to the approval of some Shiite voters for his tough approach and was not necessarily meant to signify support for a secular regime. The Kurds, who were betting to strengthen their own position with a good performance of some secular parties, such as the Communists, with whom they entertain good relations, look now rather isolated despite their electoral performance. 

Negotiating a new cabinet
Soon after the announcement of the results, negotiations started towards the formation of the new cabinet. Both Allawi, the Kurds and several members of the Shiite list claimed the position, but it soon appeared obvious that one of the leaders of the Shiite religious parties which make up the unified list would get the job. As the end of February approached, that man looked increasingly likely to be Jaffari, the leader of the main Shiite party, Dawat. If this was to be confirmed, the outcome would represent a disappointment for the Bush administration, who having failed to get Allawi enough votes to get the job, would now see their second best choice, Adel Abd al-Mahdi, pushed aside too. Although Al-Mahdi also belongs to a religious Shiite party, he is widely seen as more cooperative with the occupation authorities than Jaffari. He even supported the privatisation of Iraq's oil industry, which is not a very common attitude in Iraq. One of the Kurdish leaders, Jalal Talebani, appears likely to become the next president. 
Although both Kurds and Shiites agree that the long-lasting dominance of Arab Sunnis has to end, they do not necessarily like each other. The Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, which will provide the bulk of the next government, has made it clear that it rejects the clause, included in the Transitional Administrative Law by the occupation authorities, that grants the Kurdish minority a veto right over the new Constitution. Many members of the Shiite alliance who now criticise the clause, had accepted it back in March, a fact that might point towards a more general "revisionist" attitude that the United Iraqi Alliance might adopt once in power. 
The competition for posts in the new cabinet is very strong and might get even stronger if the current negotiations of the Coalition with some Sunni insurgent groups succeeded in convincing them to abandon violent opposition to the central government. Such groups would have to be rewarded and boosted by visible appointments. 

Security concerns tie economy down
What had been hinted by various sources has now been confirmed: US officials have now admitted that as much as 25% of all the money spent to rebuilt Iraq goes to security. The US have pledged US$18.4 billion, but only US$2.9 billion had been spent by the end of January, although a further US$8 billion had been allocated. 
Security concerns are also forcing the Oil Ministry to adapt to the circumstances. Despite continuing attacks on the oil infrastructure, the Ministry plans now to restart exports from Kirkuk in March, after they had been suspended in December. The Ministry is now switching to a tender system to sell its oil, which would allow to accumulate oil in the Ceyhan tanks and then sell it, avoiding the risk of being unable to fulfil contractual obligations in case of further sabotage. 

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