Everyone leads with the announcement of election results in Iraq, where some 8.5 million people voted, representing about 58 percent of the electorate. The unified Kurdish list did better than expected (26 percent), while the Shiite cleric slate tacitly backed by ur-power broker Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani did somewhat worse (48 percent). The tally also confirmed the paltry participation of Sunnis, whose parties earned 2 percent of the vote, according to a USA Today chart. Nevertheless, Hussein Shahristani, a senior leader in the Shiite cleric-led United Iraqi Alliance, struck a conciliatory tone in the Los Angeles Times: "We are all calling on others … to join us in forming a government of national unity."
Although some Shiite clerics said they were disappointed they didn't win the 60 percent they had predicted, it's not like plurality bites: The Shiite showing will likely to translate into an outright majority in the 275-member parliament. Most of the papers just say so, but the Washington Post actually deigns to explain why, at the very, very bottom of its lead: Several seats remain split among parties that did not win the 30,750 votes necessary to be represented; those "partial seats" will be re-apportioned among the 12 or so parties that surpassed the threshold.
And so, given those outlines, everyone tries to predict what kind of government will emerge from the marathon horse-trading that began even before the election itself, as the parties try to put together the two-thirds majority effectively necessary to build a government. To read the New York Times' lead and analysis, it would appear that Shiite clerics' Islamist urges have been dashed by winning only a slim majority in the assembly, which will force them to build a unity government, perhaps including even Ayad Allawi, whose secular party came in third with a disappointing 14 percent of the vote.
But the Post and the Wall Street Journal say that the unity of the Shiites combined with the relatively poor showing for secular liberals could augur a turn toward an Islamic state. A WP analysis notes that the Kurds, in addition to the Shiites, have strong ties to Tehran. And USAT, in an interview with Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, suggests the Shiites and the Kurds may indeed align to form a government together.
Perhaps the most interesting reads are twin profiles in the LAT and WP. The Times probes Abdelaziz Hakim, a prominent cleric and critic of U.S. policy who leads the largest party in the Shiite alliance. Although he says he will not take a leadership position in the government, the LAT suggests it's likely he'll "exert powerful influence over whomever is selected to lead Iraq." One such candidate, and the focus of the Post piece, is another member of Hakim's party: Adel Abdul Madhi, a smooth-talking, suit-wearing former exile. According to the papers, other possible candidates for prime minister include Shahristani, interim VP Ibrahim Jafari, and even neocon-protégé-turned-pariah Ahmad Chalabi.
The papers note that four U.S. soldiers died in patrols about 50 miles north of Baghdad yesterday. Three were killed when their vehicle rolled into a canal, and another died during an "indirect fire" incident on a base Samarra. "Indirect fire" usually refers to a mortar or rocket attack. A wire piece in the WP says they were all members of a unit called Task Force Danger.
A day after Hamas agreed to a "cooling off period," everyone notes that Israel announced it would release some 500 Palestinian prisoners and is taking steps to turn over control of the West Bank town of Jericho later this week. To mark the occasion, the NYT fronts highlights from a 40-minute interview with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The upbeat Abbas apparently said something like "the war with the Israel is effectively over," although the paper doesn't produce a direct quote to that effect. Which raises a key question: Why not post the whole transcript online?
The NYT fronts the Bush administration's move over the last few months to assemble a classified "tool kit" of measures designed to choke off North Korea's income. The story lacks detail on what it calls the "nuts and bolts," but says the general idea is to idea is to freeze financial transactions that allow Kim Jong-il to profit from counterfeiting, as well as from trafficking in amphetamines and heroin.
Everyone notes that MCI decided late last night to accept Verizon's offer to buy it for about $6.8 billion (WSJ) in cash and stock, spurning erstwhile suitor Qwest, which offered about $7.3 billion at the start of the weekend. This latest deal in a flurry of consolidation in the telecommunications industry would mark the end of the U.S.'s independent long distance carriers.
Pall McCartney … Despite the widely publicized effort to tone the Super Bowl, the NYT reports that some of the game's 86.1 million viewers were offended: Within 24 hours of the broadcast, the FCC was flooded with ... 31 complaints. "There was so much anticipation about what would happen that I think people were watching it with an eye toward letting the FCC know the second they saw anything," said a spokeswoman. Most shocking of all, however, is that only two of the complaints were from people complaining justifiably that half-time performer Paul McCartney "had simply bored them."