In contrast to claims by George Bush and Tony Blair, the most likely outcome of the Iraq elections will be to fuel opposition to the occupation and exacerbate divisions between the various ethnic and religious groups.

It took two weeks to count the 8.5 million votes, a claimed 58% turnout. Predictably, the main, predominantly-Shia list, the United Iraqi Alliance - backed by leading cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - will be the largest group in the new ’transitional’ national assembly. It took four million votes, 48%.

The Kurdish Alliance of the PUK and KDP came second with 2.2 million, 26%. The list headed by US stooge former ’prime minister’, Iyad Allawi, gained just 14% - despite the fact that it was backed by the media and US military might.

Far from ushering in a period of calm, the results have set in motion frenetic wheeling and dealing as potential candidates manoeuvre to become president or one of two vice-presidents.

A prime minister and cabinet will then be chosen - and ratified by the assembly. And its main task is to agree a constitution which will be voted on in a referendum in the autumn. That, at least, is the plan. Realising it will be problematic.

For the first time in modern history, the Shia (around 60% of the population) are the nominal principal political force in Iraq: under the Ottoman and British empires, the monarchy and Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, rule was concentrated in sections of the Sunni minority.

The concern of the imperialist powers is to ensure that the influential Shia clerics and parties, especially the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri) and Daawa, share power with other groups. They fear a theocratic regime on friendly terms with Iran, the focus of belligerent verbal attacks by Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

Ethnic divisions

While attempting to consolidate their grip on power, the Shia groups have to come to an agreement either with the Kurds or Allawi’s list. The Kurds papered over their own deep divisions - at least temporarily - to maximise their vote and bargaining power in the assembly. They will attempt to enshrine their de facto autonomy in the constitution.

However, many Kurds desire all-out independence. And there is a fierce struggle for control over Kirkuk, a city near the important northern oil fields. Although Kirkuk lies just outside the Kurdish self-rule area, Kurdish parties lay claim to the city. There are, however, counter-claims from Sunni Arabs and Turkomen.

The Turkish regime is watching developments with grave concern. It is completely opposed to Kurdish independence, which would inflame the Kurdish question within Turkey, and has threatened military action - ostensibly in defence of the Turkomen minority - if Kurdish forces try to take complete control of Kirkuk.

Any concerted move towards Kurdish independence would likely result in similar moves by Shias in the south to consolidate their control over the southern oil fields. The role of Islam in Iraqi society will also be a major point of controversy over the next few months with the Kurds opposing any attempt to introduce Sharia law.

Another major preoccupation for the national assembly and the imperialist forces is how to draw Sunni groups into the political establishment. There was a massive boycott by Sunni Muslims - around 20% of the population. Anbar province, which includes the cities of Falluja and Ramadi, recorded just 2% turnout, with 17% in Ninevah, which includes Mosul.

A Shia-dominated assembly will fuel the alienation and resentment of Sunnis and increased resistance to the occupation. But that resistance could take a dangerous sectarian path. Already since the elections there have been attacks specifically targeting Shia civilians.

Most Iraqis want the US out. And the election reflected this. Every candidate, even Allawi, put forward this demand. Above all, the Iraqi people want an end to the privations of war: the woeful lack of electricity and fuel for transport and heating, the lack of clean water, decent food and jobs, the danger, grief and poverty.

Real military and economic power, however, remains in the hands of US imperialism and frustration at continued suffering and brutality will increase the anger and bitterness towards the occupying forces.

But, given the deep divisions running through Iraqi society, and the absence of strong united workers’ organisations, that resistance could manifest itself in a divisive civil war, as opposed to a united campaign of national liberation which sought to improve the conditions of the mass of working-class people regardless of their ethnic, religious or secular composition.

A mass movement of the working-class and oppressed masses in Iraq is needed to cut across all ethnic divisions and build a force capable of ending the occupation.

Then it would be possible to call for the convening of a constituent assembly of democratically elected delegates to prepare a workers’ and poor farmers’ government leading to a socialist confederation of Iraq with national and minority rights.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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