Shiites become dominate power in wake of last elections

It's election day and Baghdad's most senior Shiite cleric is reflecting on the momentous rise to power of a community long oppressed by Saddam Hussein. "Today, we pick the most beautiful and delicious fruit after the liberation of Iraq from oppression, persecution and dictatorship," Ayatollah Hussein Ismail al-Sadr told two reporters Thursday at his heavily guarded home in Baghdad's ancient and overwhelmingly Shiite Kazimiyah district. He spoke on the day when Iraqis chose a new parliament almost certain to be domimated by Shiites. The political empowerment of the Shiites, a first in an Arab world dominated by Sunnis, has come at a high price. And there is no guarantee that things will go smoothly in Iraq with the Shiites at the helm.

Still, Iraq's Shiites, an estimated 60 percent of the population, are in ascendancy, and the election Thursday marked the climax of their march to power. Since the collapse of Saddam's regime in 2003, Shiites have made up the majority of three interim administrations, including the outgoing government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, an Islamist Shiite who is loyal to the clergy.

But Thursday's election was for a full four-year term parliament. Although no official results have been announced, few doubt that an alliance of Shiite religious parties will emerge as the strongest bloc in the 275-seat legislature. The assembly will name Iraq's first constitutionally elected government in some 50 years and will almost certainly be led by Shiites. That's an ironic turn for a community that lost hundreds of thousands of members during Saddam's regime. Al-Sadr is keenly aware of Shiite suffering, which he had a bitter taste of under Saddam, reports the AP. N.U.

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