Early results released by Iraq's electoral commission Sunday showed the prime minister's political coalition ahead in oil-rich Basra province, strengthening his lead in the country's parliamentary elections, AP reported.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is now leading in six of the 14 provinces where results have been released so far, including the key battleground of Baghdad. Iraq has 18 provinces. The results will determine who will lead the country through the drawdown of U.S. forces and whether progress can be made toward overcoming the deep sectarian tensions that have defined its short democratic history.
With about 63 percent of the votes counted in Basra, the win by al-Maliki's State of Law coalition appeared definitive: State of Law had almost 220,000 votes compared with 121,000 votes for his closest competitor, the Iraqi National Alliance, a Shiite religious coalition with ties to Iran.
A win in Basra province, home to Iraq's second largest city and the center of the country's oil industry, would be a boost for the prime minister's chances of winning another term.
His secular challenger, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, also picked up another province Sunday, the Sunni stronghold of Anbar in western Iraq. With 58 percent of the votes counted there, Allawi's Iraqiya coalition had about 122,000 votes compared with 22,500 for his closest competitor, the Sunni coalition Iraqi Accordance.
Allawi, a secular Shiite, has been drawing on heavy Sunni support in this campaign, attracting Sunni voters frustrated with their own leaders who are also attracted to Allawi's non-sectarian stance and anti-Iran rhetoric.
As expected, the Kurdish Alliance also was ahead in Dahuk, a province in northern Iraq, where 55 percent of the votes had been counted.
Results have trickled out from the March 7 election, though counting seemed to be picking up.
Election officials have been widely criticized for releasing votes piecemeal. The results are being shown on TV screens at the electoral commission's headquarters.