Early Iraq poll results show al-Maliki with slight edge

Early Iraq poll results show al-Maliki with slight edge

As results from Iraq's parliamentary elections continued to trickle in, leading politicians began Saturday what promised to be complicated negotiations on forming a government, dpa reported.

Early results announced so far point to a close, but widening, lead for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition over former prime minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqi List, with an alliance of mostly religious Shiite parties close behind.

Iraq's electoral commission on Saturday announced that al-Maliki's coalition was leading in Karbala, meaning that the State of Law bloc was ahead in seven provinces to the south of Baghdad. Allawi's coalition was maintaining its lead in the northern provinces of Diyala and Salah al-Din.

The electoral commission on Saturday afternoon released, then quickly withdrew, results showing al-Maliki's bloc as leading in the vital district of Baghdad, by far the largest electoral prize in the race, later blaming the confusion on a computer error.

Official preliminary results from Baghdad would be released later in the day, state television reported.

The chaotic and slow process of announcing early results has led some politicians to cry foul.

Senior Shiite cleric Abdel-Mahdi al-Karbala'i used his Friday sermon to respond to accusations of fraud by urging the electoral commission to announce the results quickly, to avoid "suspicions and doubts" about the fairness of the elections.

Abdallah Iskandar, a member of parliament running with the State of Law coalition, on Saturday told the German Press Agency dpa that he expected the coalition to win 100 seats in the new parliament.

"There are no red lines in the State of Law's negotiations on forming a coalition," he said, adding that a broad coalition would be in "the best interests of the new Iraq."

So far, al-Maliki's coalition is leading in the southern provinces of Babil, Najaf, Karbala, Dhi-Qar, Wassit, Qadisia, and Muthanna provinces, and in the eastern Baghdad district of Rusafa, while Allawi's coalition was leading in Diyala, Salah al-Din and the north Baghdad district of al-Karkh, the electoral commission said Saturday.

The Iraqi National Alliance (INA), whose largest member is the Shiite Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq (SICI), is leading in early results from the southern province of Maysan, and is running second- place in at least three other provinces and the Baghdad district of Rusafa.

If the INA continues to fare well when final results are announced, its seats could provide a crucial component in a coalition government.

But Ammar al-Hakim, who heads the SICI, and al-Maliki are traditional rivals. SICI, the party that holds the most seats in the outgoing parliament, wants the prime minister to be from its ranks.

Al-Maliki's Dawaa Party wants one of its members to hold the post.

This might suggest an alliance between the INA and Allawi's Iraqi List.

But the prospects of an INA-Iraqi List alliance are complicated by the fact that SICI's coalition partners from Shiite preacher Muqtada al-Sadr's political movement bear a grudge against Allawi for the 2004 military campaign he and US forces waged against them.

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