Monday, February 14, 2005

Arab press wary of Iraq poll results

Newspapers across the Middle East have warned of the dangers of imbalance of power in the future Iraqi elections after the announcement of the poll results.

Taking the lead in questioning how US policy had been served by the elections, Egypt's government newspapers on Monday said the Shia victory was totally against US interests.

"Has the United States gone to all this trouble (invading Iraq)
in order to see a government emerge supported and blessed by Grand Ayat Allah Ali Sistani," asked Samir Rajab, editor in chief of the daily al-Gomhuriya.

"These Shia will form, with their Iranian brothers, a force still more important in the Gulf region, which is in total contradiction with the interests of the United States."

Rajab said the absence of Sunni representation in parliament and the need to form an alliance between Shia and Kurds showed that Washington had "failed to create the political atmosphere necessary to bring about a stable state which will not be derailed by ethnic and theological struggles."

According to the results announced on Sunday, Shia should have an absolute majority in parliament, with Kurds being the second power bloc. Sunnis largely boycotted the 30 January poll.

In another Egyptian government newspaper, al-Ahram, Samir al-Shahhat said the Shia victory had "taken the United States back to the place it started."

"This terrifying case for the West (is) what it considers to be
the breeding ground of terrorism: Sharia (Islamic law)," he wrote.

The newspaper referred to a statement by Shia clerics, led by
al-Sistani who had blessed the main victors' list, demanding that the new constitution state clearly that Islamic law should be the sole basis of legislation.

"What attitude will (US President George ) Bush adopt," asked
the paper, adding that the sort of free elections which Washington wanted to see in the Middle East could bring supporters of Sharia to power in other countries.

It asked whether Bush would "mobilise your troops again to bring down" such regimes.

Saudi newspapers gave a mixed reaction to the election outcome. The English-language Arab News said one of the key messages was that "those who had argued, often against heavy odds, that an Arab country could be helped to move towards democracy were not as off-target as their critics claimed."

But al-Watan said the elections were an opportunity "to draw the curtain on a period of many political mistakes, most of which the American occupier contributed to significantly."

It added: "The United States caused a sectarian and racial
schism between the Iraqis ... by approaching some political groups at the expense of the others. It should leave them to their own to find common grounds to set the priorities for the future."

Al-Riyadh daily said it feared the outcome would lead to "a
replica of Lebanon" - which suffered 15 years of civil war - and that "distributing offical posts ... among minorities ... will perpetuate sectarian and nationalistic divisions."

Lebanon's Daily Star praised Iraqis for turning out in large
numbers despite threats from fighters opposed to the presence of foreign troops in Iraq and said Sunnis had to be brought in from the cold.

"What is more concerning is the low turnout among the
country's Sunni population. Right now is the time for the newly dominant Shia to begin reconciliation with their Sunni

Speaking to Aljazeera, Salman al-Jumaili, Director of the legal and political studies centre in al-Nahrain University in Baghdad said al-Sistani's list should not be viewed as a single entity, "as this alliance may collapse due to clash of interests or directions among its members"

Al-Jumaili went to say that the winners in these elections are the "US allies".

"Most of the winning lists are among the Iraq Liberation group and take monthly salaries from the US intelligence agency," al-Jumaili told Aljazeera.

"At least five of the winning political forces have participated in the so-called 'Iraq Liberation programme', which receives its allowances from the US Congress.

"That is why the US forces will face no problems in choosing these two ministers," he said.