The Iraqi election results are in and, as expected, the Shiites captured approximately 48 percent of the vote. The Kurdish political party’s second place finish is enough to ensure, at least for the moment, that the Shiite majority will not be able to form a theocratic government in Iraq. It does, however, raise the possibility that a Shiite-dominated government might very well form a strong alliance with Iran.

Such an alliance would create a force that could well challenge the now-dominant Sunni populations in Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kuwait, Syria, Egypt, Turkey and other Muslim countries. Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein and his ruling Sunni minority squared off against Iran’s tyrannical Ayatollah Khomeini and the Shiite majority during the Iran-Iraq War in 1980. (The fierce fighting took the lives of 1 million people from both camps.)

Now that Hussein has been deposed, and the Shiites in the majority, this could spawn a backlash against the Sunni minority in Iraq, and manifest itself in retaliation against the Sunnis. Many in Iraq are waiting to see if the Sunni population will, indeed, join the new government, or if a civil war will ensue.

The majority of the insurgents who have crossed the borders into Iraq, and who are responsible for the suicide bombings are believed to be Sunnis. The 19 terrorists responsible for the 9-11 attack on America were Sunnis. The Taliban is comprised of Sunni Muslims. Worldwide, the Sunnis number 940 million, while the Shiites total 120 million. Would an Iraq-Iran alliance signal to the rest of the Muslim world that the Shiites are ready to stake their claim?

It appears that of the 275 seats in the new assembly, the Shiites will claim 140; the Kurds will hold 75; Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi will capture 40 seats (the largest block controlled by an individual.) The remaining 15 seats will go to eight other groups, including three seats to a group loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the rebel Shiite cleric.

All of this is overshadowed by the fact that the most powerful man in Iraq will not sit in a seat in the new assembly – rather, he will continue to direct the affairs of the country from his small and unpretentious home in the slums of Najaf. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is the real winner in the elections upon which he insisted, under the terms he demanded.

This dominant Iranian-born Shiite cleric may very well be the one to select the new leaders of the emerging parliament in Iraq. He has already made his presence known in Iraqi political circles by insisting that any new constitution adhere to Islamic principles. Although Sistani has stated that the government in Iraq should not be run by clerics, only time will tell if he supports this declaration.

Iraqi representative, Sheik Bassem al-Shommari says: “Sharia will be the foundation for the constitution. All the laws must be taken from Sharia because the country has a Muslim majority.” The minority Sunni population is deeply concerned about how the Shiite clerics will interpret Islamic law, and the more secular Iraqis fear another Afghanistan where Islamic dress and laws are harshly implemented.

The drafting of a new constitution by the parliament will be the first challenge for the newly-elected members. The task to bring together the rival factions of Sunnis, Kurds, Shiites and other minority groups in Iraq must be accomplished by mid-August. The very heart of the issue of a democratic Iraq lies in whether or not these groups can learn to live together in some measure of harmony.

The simple truth is this: The Kurds in northern Iraq long for an independent state; the Shiites tilt toward a theocracy of the Iranian variety. The Sunnis, at the apex of power under Saddam Hussein, may never be able to forget their glory days, and participate in the formation of the new government.

The White House is hopeful that the new government will be in office in early March. The election of a president and two deputies will follow, and then all must agree on a new prime minister and elect a nine-member supreme court. Although American politicians are saying publicly that they will work with the government chosen by the Iraqis, privately they must fear an Iran-Iraq alliance of the majority Shiites.

According to one American diplomat in Baghdad, “The Iraqis are free to choose whatever vision of Iraq they want. That’s entirely up to them. It’s entirely up to us, the United States, who we choose to support. We can use these funds [billions in promised reconstruction aid] elsewhere.”

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