BAGHDAD -- A Shi'ite alliance won a slim majority in Iraq's new National Assembly, according to certified election returns announced yesterday, but it may take weeks to form a government.
Because a two-thirds majority in the 275-member parliament, or 182 seats, is required for confirming the top positions in the new government, the United Iraqi Alliance will have to make deals with the other parties. The alliance won 140 seats, while Kurdish parties got 75, secular Shi'ites took 40, and nine smaller parties shared 20, the final returns of the Jan. 30 elections indicated.
Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders have 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 largely Sunni-led insurgency in the country.
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 US military.
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 US 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 yesterday.
In Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, Iraqi police killed two men with suspected links to Al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq and arrested five others during raids, the city's police chief, Major General Adel Molan, said yesterday.
"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 this month from Mosul to Baghdad.
The National Assembly will be in power for only 10 months, and its main task is to draft a constitution so that new elections can be held in December.
But it will not convene until disputes are resolved over who will become prime minister, the top post in the new government.
Wrangling over who will succeed interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi may take days, 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 a half-century.
The Kurdish parties have apparently agreed to support the alliance's candidate for prime minister in return for the largely ceremonial presidency, although they also have 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," 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 that the coalition has recruited eight lawmakers from other political parties to join the bloc in parliament and that talks were underway 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. Once the assembly meets, there is also no deadline for appointing the president and two vice presidents, who in turn will name the prime minister.
Most observers do not 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.