From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

We still don't have definitive results from the Iraqi parliamentary election, but as numbers filter through the counting process, observers are starting to draw some inferences. The New York Times reports today that the breakdown of votes cast by the military confirms that Sunni Arabs are greatly underrepresented in the ranks. Dr. Phebe Marr wrote the "Modern History of Iraq," and is a senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace.

Dr. Marr, I'd like to ask you first: Why don't we have definitive results of the Iraqi elections? It's been 12 days.

Dr. PHEBE MARR (US Institute of Peace): Yeah, well, first of all, it's a complicated election law, and it's going to take time to get those ballots, and remember, it's not on computer. It's by hand--they have to be counted and checked. And second of all, there are 45 compensatory seats that are going to be redistributed after they know the first vote, and that's according to a very complex system. And third, of course, there have been some protests about fraud, which are going to have to be investigated.

SIEGEL: What do you make, by the way, of The Times report, that when you look at the votes cast for what are presumed to be--well, they're Sunni-dominated parties so the votes are presumed to be those of Sunni Arabs. In the military vote count, it's very low and that confirms that there aren't very many Sunni Arabs in the military.

Dr. MARR: Yes. That article sounds about right to me. We've always said that the Sunni population as a whole was 15, 20 percent--maybe a little more--Kurds, perhaps about the same, and the Shia have a definite majority. This is a new government, and it's drawing on those groups that were in opposition before--that's the Shia and the Kurds. And while I think the Ministry of Defense--certainly the US military is trying to create an integrated military, that's not possible. And what I have heard too is that it's harder to get Sunnis in. You have to vet them, and as you can imagine, there's a lot of distrust of Sunnis, particularly perhaps people who were in the former military, of coming into the army.

SIEGEL: I want to ask you about something you said in passing, which is that we have these estimates of how many Shia there are, how many Kurds. They're estimates because there really hasn't been a census, and I gather when there was a census, almost 50 years ago, it didn't ask you if you were Shia or Sunni.

Dr. MARR: No, no, no. It's a very sensitive subject, and you didn't go around asking people's ethnic or sectarian background. So these figures are based on--there have been censuses ...(unintelligible). In fact, they have statistics that come out of Iraq, but some of those were extremely suspect and not based on these issues.

SIEGEL: Does this prolonged period during which there have been challenges, charges of fraud, during which there have been challenges to Sunni candidates who are said to have been too high in the Baathist Party to be able to sit in the new parliament, does this period diminish in any way people's confidence in the election?

Dr. MARR: I think it's inevitable that when they come out--the Sunnis--even though I feel the Sunnis did fairly well this time around are going to be dissatisfied because there's been an idea promulgated by the Sunnis that they are much more in the population--perhaps as many as 40 percent, 30 percent, and so this is going to be seen as unacceptable. It was an election, but we have to be patient because I think there's an expectation in the United States as you even express: Why is it taking so long? So this is going to take a long time, not only to get accurate figures, but to get a government together, to get the kind of compromises that is going to result in a government. And I think expectations here in the United States may be too high. They may be too high in Iraq, too. We're all going to have to be patient.

SIEGEL: Phebe Marr, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Dr. MARR: You're welcome. My pleasure.

SIEGEL: And enjoy the rest of the holidays in Key West, Florida.

Dr. MARR: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Dr. Phebe Marr, who is a senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace and author of the "Modern History of Iraq."

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