On 6 April 2005, the Assembly elected a Kurd, Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq. He designated Ibrahim al-Jafari, a Shiite Arab, to form the Iraqi Transitional Government, which was sworn in on 28 April 2005. Al-Jafari became Prime Minister.
Due to the under-representation of Sunni Arabs in the Transitional National Assembly, Shiite Arabs and Kurds were in a position to leave a strong mark on the new Constitution: for the Kurds it provided the basis of a federal state, with great executive powers for its separate regions, including a Kurdish one comprising three provinces (see also the disputed Kirkuk province). For Shiite Arabs, organized largely in Shiite Islamist parties, it held the prospect of an Islamist-inspired judicial order. When the Constitution was put to a vote in a referendum on 15 October 2005, Sunni Arab leaders called upon their followers to vote against it. In order to block the Constitution they needed a two-thirds majority of ‘no’ votes in at least three of Iraq’s eighteen provinces. They got such an outcome in only two, although they came close in a third.
The approval of the Constitution (by a 79 percent majority) opened the way for stage three: general elections for the members of a 275-seat Council of Representatives (four-year term) and the formation of a new government. The elections took place on 15 December 2005. The Sunni Arabs participated, so the turnout was high (76.4 percent). The Shiite Islamist United Iraqi Alliance won 41.2 percent, the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan 21.7 percent, the Sunni Arab Iraqi Accord Front 15.1 percent, the Sunni-Shiite-secular Iraqi National List 8 percent, and the Sunni Arab Iraqi National Dialogue Front 4.1 percent (the balance of the votes went to small Kurdish and Turkmen parties).
About 80 percent of the votes went to either Islamist (Shiite or Sunni) or Kurdish nationalist parties. Sunni Arabs were motivated to participate by a growing awareness that the establishment of a new political order would proceed with or without them, and by a special provision in the Constitution on the basis of which amendments could be made on issues that were important to the Sunni Arabs. Foremost among these were limitations on the decentralization of the state in order to safeguard a fair share of the oil revenues for the Sunni Arabs, who happen, for the most part, to live outside those parts of Iraq where the proven oil and gas reserves are situated (15 percent in the three northern Kurdish provinces, 70 percent in three southern Shiite Arab provinces; in OPEC, Iraq ranks third in proven oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia and Iran; specialists in the field believe that the real size of Iraq’s oil reserves – decades of warfare have prevented a systematic search, while technology has much improved – probably approaches that of Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading producer).
On 6 April 2006, the Council of Representatives re-elected Jalal Talabani as the country’s President. He and a Shiite Arab and a Sunni Arab Vice-President, all with four-year terms, made up the Presidency Council, in which every member had veto power over laws that passed by Parliament. Two days earlier the post of Speaker of Parliament had gone to Hajim al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab. On 3 May 2006, five months after the general elections took place, a coalition government was sworn in, which was dominated by Shiite Islamist and Kurdish parties, plus one Sunni Arab party. The new Prime Minister was a Shiite Arab, Nuri al-Maliki, a leader of the Shiite Islamist Dawa Party. He was assisted by a Sunni Arab and a Kurdish deputy Prime Minister (all three with four-year terms).
All in all, it seemed that a new political order, structured along sectarian and ethnic lines, had been constructed, but the reality was different: political violence would soon become civil war.