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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Islamist Bloc Wins 47% in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A Shiite Islamist bloc won Iraq's first election since Saddam Hussein's overthrow, sealing the political resurgence of the nation's long-oppressed majority.

The Iraqi Electoral Commission said Sunday the Shiite list, known as the United Iraqi Alliance, took more than 47 percent of the vote. But this was less than the bloc had predicted and leaves it six or seven seats short of a majority in Parliament.

A powerful Kurdish alliance came second with 25 percent, while a grouping led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite, came third with nearly 14 percent.

Few Sunni Arabs took part in the voting, which effectively marginalizes the minority that has traditionally ruled modern Iraq and held a privileged position under Hussein, a Sunni.

The commission said 8.5 million Iraqis, or 58 percent of registered voters, cast ballots in the Jan. 30 poll, Iraq's first multiparty election for half a century.

Sunni Arab turnout was low. Only two percent of eligible voters in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province cast ballots, and only 29 percent in the mainly Sunni Salahadin province.

Sunnis, who make up about 20 percent of Iraq's 27 million people, will be underrepresented in the National Assembly that will now be formed. They will have little political influence.

That could stoke the insurgency in Iraq, which is being fought mainly by Sunni Arab guerrillas who want to drive out U.S.-led troops and overthrow the U.S.-backed government.

The vote determines the composition of a 275-member National Assembly that must agree on a president and two vice presidents by a two-thirds majority. Those three officials will then agree on a prime minister and cabinet, and their choices must be approved by a majority in the assembly.

With no bloc gaining dominance on its own, there has already been furious horse-trading to try to strike deals.

The United Iraqi Alliance insists that one of its candidates -- probably current Finance Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi or Vice President Ibrahim Jaafari -- be appointed prime minister.

The Kurds want their candidate, Jalal Talabani, to be president or prime minister. Under one scenario, the two blocs could do a deal with a Shiite candidate getting the prime minister's job and Talabani the presidency.

But Allawi, who visited Kurdistan on Saturday and met Talabani, may also try to form alliances to improve his chances. If he can make a deal with the Kurds and persuade some of the Shiite alliance to break away, he may be able to keep his job.

Even if Sunni Arabs are largely shut out of government, they could still potentially veto the new Iraqi constitution due to be written this year, causing political deadlock. One of the main tasks of the National Assembly is to oversee the drafting of a constitution, which must be approved by a referendum.

Sunni insurgents who have relentlessly attacked U.S. troops, Iraqi security forces and officials have also turned their violence on Shiites, raising fears of sectarian civil war.

Iraq has announced it will close its land borders from Thursday to try to prevent a flood of foreign pilgrims arriving for Ashura, one of the holiest events in the Shiite calendar, when millions of people converge on shrines in Iraq.