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What were the results of the recent Iraqi elections?

On Jan. 30, an impressive 60 percent of Iraq's 14.2 million eligible voters participated in the country's first relatively free and fair nationwide elections.

I say "impressive" because the 60 percent who voted did so in defiance of terrorist threats against themselves and their families. For a point of reference, it's worth noting that voter turnout in the United States' presidential election last November was a pathetic 54 percent, despite that the only threat Americans encountered was the possibility of missing an "Everybody Loves Raymond" rerun.

Violence wasn't the only obstacle that Iraqi voters faced. The actual voting process was confusing and inconvenient. Did you see the ballots? The writing was, like, all weird and squiggly-looking. Haven't Iraqis ever heard of Helvetica?

To make matters worse, many if not most of the 200-plus political entities listed on the ballot had names that sounded kinda like at least one other name on the ballot. I'm serious. There was a party on the ballot called the National Gathering, another called the Centrist National Gathering, another called the Gathering for Iraq, and yet another called the National Iraqi Gathering.

To top things off, Iraqis who voted had one of their index fingers lathered in purple ink, thus rendering discreet nose-picking nearly impossible for several days.

The election was not a triumph for all Iraqis, though. Sunni Arabs who wanted to vote faced an even greater threat than their Kurdish and Shi'ite counterparts. That's because Sunni Arabs interested in voting were more likely to live among the insurgents (former Saddamites and foreign terrorists like Abu Musab Zarqawi) who were trying hardest to undermine the election. The Economist reported that voter turnout in Sunni provinces ranged from 2 percent in Anbar to 29 percent in Salaheddin.

Before the election, several of the parties and candidates formed alliances (aka lists) with other like-minded parties to pool their power. The list that fared best was a grouping of Shi'ite parties called the United Iraqi Alliance. Its more than 4 million votes nabbed 140 seats and a majority in the 275-member National Assembly. Altogether, 12 lists and parties earned at least one seat in the assembly. The Kurdistan Alliance finished second with 75 seats, and the Iraqi List, led by current interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, nabbed 40.

The man most likely to end up Iraq's first elected prime minister is Ibrahim al-Jaafari. He's the head of the Dawa Party, one of the two big parties in the United Iraqi Alliance list. He's an Islamist, meaning he wants Islam to play a central role in government and laws. If he ends up P.M., it's likely that religion-themed restrictions, such as alcohol bans and strict dress codes for women, will be enforced. In other words, if al-Jaafari wins, my dream of quitting my job as a newspaper columnist and moving to Baghdad to open a bunch of Hooter's franchises will likely never come true.

The Kurds also were winners. Though the United Iraqi Alliance has a parliamentary majority, a two-thirds majority is going to be needed to pick a P.M. and approve a new constitution. You may recall from about two paragraphs ago that the Kurds nabbed 75 seats in the assembly - enough to thwart any political alliance that doesn't give in to at least some Kurdish demands. Those demands include, but are not limited to, the creation of an autonomous Kurdish federal territory enshrined in the new constitution, and Kurdish control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Where are the Sunni Arabs in all of this? Kinda screwed. They will be represented in the drafting of the constitution, but their stupid boycott has left them way underrepresented in the local governments of mixed cities like Kirkuk and Mosul. They're the big losers.

Who's the biggest winner? That'd be none other than Mr. Mighty Shi'itey himself, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. He has leveraged his influence over millions of Shi'ites (that there's been no widespread Shi'ite rebellion against the U.S. occupation or a civil war between Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs is largely Sistani's doing) into tremendous political power. It was pressure from him that made the U.S. commit to the elections in the first place, and it was his list, the United Iraqi Alliance, that won. He da man.

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