Iraq PM Maliki Leads Baghdad

The Iraqi National Alliance (INA), a fellow Shi’ite bloc that has close ties to Iran, trailed by a wide margin in the Iraqi capital, home to more than 6 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 like the southern oil hub Basra, overall results were too close to call six days after the vote.

Politicians promised the election would bring better governance and security as Washington prepares to end combat operations in Iraq seven years after the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein.

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 poll in 2005.

By Saturday, 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 Arbil.

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 like Maliki and Allawi. It is still too early to say whose interests may align.

FRAUD ALLEGATIONS

With about 18 percent of the count completed, electoral officials said Maliki’s State of Law coalition won 158,763 votes in Baghdad, compared to 108,126 for INA and 104,810 for Iraqiya.

No vote tallies had been released so far for Basra and Mosul, the most important population centres behind Baghdad.

While the release of results from Baghdad lent some small measure of clarity to Iraq’s political landscape after the March 7 election for 325 parliamentary seats, allegations of fraud may yet scramble the picture.

Iraqiya has charged that ballots were dumped in the garbage, nearly a quarter of a million soldiers were denied voting rights and electoral commission workers fiddled with vote counts.

“It is now time for the electoral commission to seriously investigate fraud allegations. If after it rules on these, the claims persist, we could face a serious problem, as the best test of whether these elections are legitimate and will result in stability is acceptance of the results by the losers,” said Joost Hiltermann, an expert with the International Crisis Group.

The election result is being watched closely in Washington. The Obama administration plans to halve U.S. troop strength in Iraq in the next few months, formally ending combat operations by September 1 ahead of a full withdrawal by the end of 2011.

Continuity in a new Maliki-led government could be attractive to oil majors that signed multibillion-dollar contracts last year, part of Iraq’s plan to challenge top oil producers within six years, but none of obvious candidates for the top job has suggested rescinding the contracts.  Reuters