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IN THE NEWS - Iraqi Elections

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This is Steve Ember with In the News in VOA Special English.

On Sunday, for the first time in almost fifty years, Iraq will hold parliamentary elections with more than one party competing. Some Iraqis have already been voting in other countries.

Around fourteen million names are on voter lists in Iraq. Voters face threats of violence from groups like the one that calls itself al-Qaida in Iraq. On Friday, Iraqi officials announced the arrests of three top aides to its Jordanian-born leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

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Graphic Image

Iraqi soldiers and police will guard voting centers. United States officials say American troops will be prepared to assist.

The election is to choose two hundred seventy-five members for what is called a Transitional National Assembly.

One of the duties of this temporary assembly will be to name a three-member presidency council. Another duty is to write a constitution. If Iraqis approve the constitution in October, then they will elect a new government at the end of the year.

On Sunday, Iraqis will vote from a single national ballot. They will choose lists of candidates representing parties or coalitions. Seats will be divided in the National Assembly based on the share of votes that a list receives. A goal is to have women in at least one-fourth of the seats.

Many political groups are competing. Commentators say the United Iraqi Alliance appears to have the strongest support. A Shiite Muslim leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, heads the candidate list.

The alliance wants Iraq to be an Islamic state with a federal government. The alliance has the support of the highest religious leader in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Its candidate list is mainly Shiite. Iraq is about sixty percent Shiite. But the list also contains other religious and ethnic groups including Iraqi Kurds and ethnic Turkmens.

Another group of candidates that may do well in the voting is called the Iraqi List. Its candidates are Shiite and Sunni. Iyad Allawi, now the temporary prime minister of Iraq, heads this list.

About twenty percent of Iraqis are Sunni. Some Sunnis have called for a boycott of the voting. Their Iraqi Islamic Party withdrew its candidate list from the election. Members said the security situation was too threatening.

President Bush has urged Iraqis to vote. So has the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. On Friday he urged Iraqis to follow the example of the Afghan people. Mister Karzai called the election a necessary risk to bring order to Iraq.

And, in Washington, Condoleezza Rice was sworn in Friday as secretary of state. [She first took the oath of office in private on Wednesday; a public ceremony with President Bush took place Friday at the State Department.] She was national security adviser to the president. Miz Rice replaces Colin Powell who resigned.

At her confirmation hearings, some Democratic senators condemned her handling of the war in Iraq. They said she used bad judgment and misled the public about the reasons for going to war. On Wednesday the Senate voted eighty-five to thirteen to confirm Miz Rice as secretary of state.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Steve Ember.

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