Coalition talks start as Iraqi prime minister leads in early election results
PRIME minister Nuri al-Maliki held a wide lead yesterday in early results from Baghdad, the major prize in parliamentary elections Iraqis hope will stabilise a nation riven by years of sectarian warfare.
The Iraqi National Alliance (INA), another Shiite bloc that has close ties to Iran, trailed by a wide margin in the Iraqi capital, home to more than six million people and worth 68 seats in parliament, twice as many as the next largest province.
The secularist, cross-sectarian Iraqiya list headed by former prime minister Iyad Allawi was a close third.
With early results representing only a fraction of the vote and no figures in from areas such as the southern oil hub of Basra, the result was too close to call six days after polling.
Politicians promised the election would bring better governance and security as Washington prepares to end combat operations in Iraq seven years after Saddam Hussein was ousted by a US-led coalition.
But the margins tallied so far suggest weeks or months of horse-trading ahead to form a government and choose a prime minister. Sectarian violence erupted as politicians took months to form a government after the last parliamentary elections in 2005.
By yesterday, days after the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) initially expected to report results, tallies from half of Iraq's 18 provinces were in. Maliki's State of Law coalition led in five provinces, with the INA, a bloc including some former Maliki allies, ahead in one.
Allawi's Iraqiya was ahead by wide margins in two mainly Sunni provinces north of Baghdad, Diyala and Salahuddin, while powerful Kurdish parties led as expected in Irbil.
Even before a clear national picture had emerged, political manoeuvring was under way. Hassan al-Sunaid, a lawmaker and senior member of Maliki's Dawa Party, said Maliki's State of Law coalition was already in talks with leading Kurdish parties about forming a new government. He said talks with other coalitions would follow.
"It is obvious that neither our bloc nor any other one will get the majority in this vote to form the government alone," he said. "But through alliances, a majority will be reached."
There are numerous theories about possible alliances, based not just on vote results but on chemistry between leading figures such as Maliki and Allawi. It is still too early to say whose interests may align.
The result is being watched closely in Washington. The administration plans to halve troop strength in Iraq, formally ending combat operations by 1 September ahead of a full withdrawal by the end of next year.
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