BAGHDAD, Iraq – A Shiite alliance won a slim majority in Iraq's new National Assembly, according to certified election returns announced Thursday, but it may take weeks to form a government. Meanwhile, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search) cautioned against excluding all Saddam Hussein's (search) supporters.
Because a two-thirds majority in the 275-member parliament is required for confirming the top positions in the new government, the United Iraqi Alliance (search) will have to make deals with the other parties. The alliance won 140 seats, while Kurdish parties got 75, secular Shiites took 40 and nine smaller parties shared 20, the final returns of the Jan. 30 elections showed.
Shiite and Kurdish leaders have already agreed that they must reach out to prominent Sunnis to participate in the government if they want it to be considered legitimate among Sunnis and to have any hope of ending the country's largely Sunni-led insurgency.
The Sunni-led Iraqis Party won only five seats in parliament, because many Sunni Arabs avoided the elections — either out of fear of violence or to support a boycott call by radical clerics opposed to the U.S. military.
Allawi told The Associated Press that the alliance must change its platform of purging Sunnis who were members of Saddam's Baath Party from government positions if it wants national unity.
"The alliance talks about de-Baathification. I hope if they get control and they're chosen to be the ones running the country, I sincerely hope that they revisit these issues in their program and re-discuss it with a view of having reconciliation and national unity," Allawi said.
"We cannot afford in this country, for now, to go on a route different to that of national unity," said Allawi, who spoke English in the interview. Otherwise, "it will throw the country into problems, severe problems."
The key challenge for the new government will be ending the insurgency that kills dozens of people every week. Most Iraqis say only negotiations will end the attacks.
A U.S. soldier was killed and three others were wounded in a car bomb attack while on patrol in the northern city of Mosul, the military said Thursday.
Indonesia's Foreign Ministry on Friday said two reporters working for an Indonesian television station went missing in Iraq on Wednesday and that a witness said they were kidnapped by armed men wearing Iraqi military uniforms.
In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, Iraqi police killed two men with suspected links to al-Qaida's affiliate in Iraq and arrested five others during raids, the city's police chief, Major Gen. Adel Molan, said Thursday.
"We found huge amounts of weapons, including mortars, assault rifles, and explosives. We also found computers and CDs which show the beheading of several hostages in addition to letters which they were about to send to Osama bin Laden," Molan said of Tuesday's raids.
In the latest hostage ordeal, a Swedish citizen kidnapped in Iraq appeared in a video with a gun pointed at his head, appealing to the pope and Sweden's king to help win his release from insurgents, Swedish media reported. A group calling itself "Martyr of al-Isawy Brigades" said it kidnapped the Swede of Iraqi descent as he traveled from Mosul to Baghdad this month.
The National Assembly will be in power for only 10 months, and its main job will be to draft a constitution so new elections can be held in December.
But it won't convene until disputes are resolved over who will become prime minister — the top post in the new government.
Wrangling over who will become Allawi's successor may take days or even weeks to resolve, several people close to the talks said after the electoral commission certified the results of the elections, clearing the way for the country's first democratic parliament in half a century.
The Kurdish parties have apparently agreed to support the alliance's candidate for prime minister in return for the largely ceremonial presidency, though they have also offered to produce a compromise candidate for prime minister, if needed. Kurdish officials have said they would not accept a theocratic government.
"We will reject, and we won't allow, the establishment of a theocratic state; we want separation between religion and state," said Noshirwan Mustafa, an aide to Jalal Talabani, the Sunni Kurd who is expected to become president.
Ali Hashim al-Youshaa, one of the United Iraqi Alliance's leaders, said the coalition has recruited eight lawmakers from other political parties to join the bloc in parliament, and that talks were under way to recruit many more.
There is no timetable for convening the National Assembly, and the current government will work with incoming lawmakers to set a date to convene. Once the assembly meets, there is also no deadline for appointing the president and two vice presidents, who will in turn name the prime minister.
Most observers don't expect the assembly to appoint the president until there is consensus on who will be prime minister and who will be in the Cabinet. Once the president is appointed, a prime minister must be named within two weeks.
The two leading candidates to be the alliance's nominee for prime minister are interim Vice President Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi.
Allawi, whose secular party won 40 seats, insists he is still in the running as a compromise candidate.
Al-Jaafari said Thursday he expects the alliance to agree on a nominee within the next two days, but it wasn't clear if he expected the candidate to have the backing of the 182 lawmakers needed to win, or the support only of the alliance.
"We are having free discussions about who is going to be the prime minister and it probably will take two or three days to announce who is going to be the prime minister," al-Jaafari said following certification of the election results.
Adnan al-Kadhimi, an aide to al-Jaafari, said he expects the assembly to convene for the first time March 1.