AT yesterday's election in Iraq as many as 10 million voters were choosing among the 7'000 candidates representing 230 parties and coalitions in 18 provinces, vying for 275 seats in a new parliament. It is understandable that the declaration of results will take “about a week”. However, those results will only be the beginning of a process that could last for weeks or months before a government is formed. That the election is taking place at all is a major administrative achievement by the Iraqi government and the American and British occupying powers. Whether it will prove to be a sufficient political and constitutional achievement to enable Washington and London to give the order for troop withdrawals remains to be seen. The range of parties involved in this election is bewildering but it seems likely that the outcome will be of two main but very different groups: a Shiite coalition of religious parties on one side, probably led by Adel Abdul Mahdi, and a mostly secular grouping of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties on the other whose leader would be Ayad Allawi. The prospect of a stable Iraq in the future is dependent on the extent to which these two sides can work together or, at least, tolerate each other by operating a Western-style government-and-opposition relationship. Considering the differences between them the latter seems a tall order. There is little point in speculating on what will happen until the election results are known. However, even then there is a hazard that has to be kept in mind. The readiness of the Arab Sunni community to participate in this election, instead of abstaining as it did in the referendum constitution earlier this year, has been dependent on undertakings by other parties to make changes to the Constitution wanted by the Sunnis to avoid the risk of a civil war. These changes will have to be approved by the new Parliament and therefore any coalition needing the support of the Sunnis to form a government will have to commit itself to these changes. That is not going to be easy.


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