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Allam, speaks about the Iraqi election

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HANNAH ALLAM, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: This is Hannah Allam reporting from Baghdad for McClatchy Newspapers. While it’s still too early to predict any winners and it’s not expected that any single politician or party will win an outright majority, there are some leading contenders that pretty much everyone agrees on. One of them, of course, is the incumbent prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. He has sort of fashioned himself as the centrist candidate, sort of a self-styled nationalist. He is credited with a lot of the security improvements of recent years. At the same time, he’s also blamed for splitting the Shia vote because he decided not to join the main Shia Muslim alliance. This is the alliance that’s another strong contender, I suppose. It’s made up several of the largest Shia factions. Many of them have ties to Iran. And then the third camp would be the [Ayad] Allawi bloc. And, again, that’s a secular, mixed-sect coalition that’s headed by Allawi, former caretaker prime minister and a secular Shiite.

The Sadrist vote is one of the wild cards. I think we will see how the Sadrists do in the south, as well as in Baghdad, especially Sadr City, although counting those votes 100 percent for Sadr these days, it’s not such a sure thing anymore as it was a couple of years ago, perhaps. Some people have learned that if you chanted with that movement [inaudible] for Maliki, for example. But for sure the Sadrist movement has still some very strong and devoted supporters, both from Baghdad and throughout the south, particularly in Maysan province along the Iranian border.

I think tomorrow Iraqis will wake up and say, okay, election day is over, and then realize that now the real battle begins, and that’s going to be the horse trading, shifting alliances, as we see who really was the top vote-getter. Of course the Kurds are going to come into play as the kingmakers as they always do. Their support is going to really determine who gets sort of pushed over the threshold for the majority voice and formation of the next government. So there’s a lot still to come, a lot of unknowns still to come, and some people—you know, many people, in fact, think that this could be just as tense and perhaps violent a period as the months leading up to the election. So there’s a lot at stake in the next few months.

I haven’t met a single Iraqi who thinks the Americans are going to stay longer than their scheduled withdrawal date at the end of next year. When we talk to Iraqis, they say, well, the Americans were here and we had a bloody sectarian war that raged for two years and killed thousands of people. So I’m not sure that they think something far worse is going to come if the Americans leave, if that’s what happens under their watch. This is Hannah Allam reporting from Baghdad for McClatchy Newspapers.

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