Chalabi Lacks Votes Needed to Win Spot in Iraqi Assembly

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By Ellen Knickmeyer and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 27, 2005

BAGHDAD, Dec. 26 -- Unexpectedly low support from overseas voters has left Ahmed Chalabi -- the returned Iraqi exile once backed by the United States to lead Iraq -- facing a shutout from power in this month's vote for the country's first full-term parliament since the 2003 invasion.

Rebounding violence, which included bombings, assassination attempts and other attacks, claimed at least 19 lives in Iraq on Monday, including that of an American soldier. Eight members of a single Iraqi SWAT team were wiped out in what Iraqi authorities described as an hour-long shootout with better-armed insurgents.

With 95 percent of a preliminary tally from the Dec. 15 vote now completed, Chalabi remained almost 8,000 votes short of the 40,000 minimum needed for him or his bloc to win a single seat in the 275-seat National Assembly, according to election officials. Without a seat in the assembly, Chalabi would presumably be unable to obtain a post in the resulting government.

However, Chalabi was among the politicians jockeying Monday ahead of meetings that have been scheduled in the Kurdish north this week to bring Shiite Muslims, Sunni Arabs, Kurds and others into post-election talks on forming the next government.

A spokesman for Chalabi's party, which has filed complaints of election irregularities, said he was waiting for the results of the investigation. "What I can say is Dr. Chalabi will have an important role, whether in the government or outside,'' said the spokesman, Haider Mousawi.

Chalabi is regarded as both a master deal-maker and remarkable political survivor. The longtime exile and his associates played an influential role in the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein; U.S. authorities tapped Chalabi to lead a small Iraqi force in the U.S.-led invasion. But his reputation suffered from past financial scandals, and critics have charged he was always more popular with Americans than with Iraqis.

Chalabi's supporters here had hoped he would do well among exile voters who were allowed to cast ballots overseas. But results announced Monday showed he received just 0.89 percent of the "special vote,'' from Iraqi citizens in foreign countries, hospitals, the army and prisons. Kurdish politicians received the largest share of the special vote, with the backing of millions of Iraqi Kurdish exiles and members of the security forces, while the current governing coalition of Shiite religious parties has so far won the most votes overall.

Chalabi's bloc has done poorly across the country, according to the preliminary tally, which left it statistically unlikely that the bloc could win a seat outright. Final results are expected by early next month.

Chalabi pulled out of the governing Shiite alliance ahead of the elections, opting instead to form a small party of his own, after the alliance refused to guarantee him the top job of prime minister, his aides said at the time.

Representatives of the top finishers readied for midweek meetings to be convened under the auspices of President Jalal Talabani. With no party receiving an outright majority of seats in the new National Assembly, winning control of the next government will require forming a coalition that can command such a majority.

The deal-making has led to meetings among rivals at opposite extremes of Iraqi politics to feel out any possible alliance. On Saturday, the effort brought Saleh Mutlak -- a Sunni politician previously derided by Shiites as a front for insurgents -- together with Abdul Aziz Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite religious party whose militia Sunnis accuse of running anti-Sunni death squads. Both sides confirmed the meeting Monday.

"We have agreed that we should form a government of national unity without suggesting any names," Mutlak said. "And they've agreed on the principle and were very positive about it." He said there were "no results for these talks yet, but all expectations show that we are on the right track to solve the problem."


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