Allawi: Iraqis need to protect their country

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The Independent Online

The vote winner in Iraq's parliamentary elections said today he wanted to negotiate with all parties to form a government that can restore Iraq's place in the Arab and Muslim world.

Former prime minister Ayad Allawi said his Iraqiya alliance was "open to talks with all" and added the negotiations should start immediately.

He said the stability of Iraq was necessary for the stability of the Middle East and that it was now up to Iraqis to protect their country.

The nation should "no longer have to depend on Americans" to guarantee its security, he added.

Allawi was speaking a day after full returns from the March 7 parliamentary elections showed him winning 91 seats in the 235-member parliament.

"The Iraqi people have blessed the Iraqiya bloc by choosing it," Allawi told a news conference at his headquarters in Baghdad.

"We are open to all powers starting with the State of Law bloc of brother Prime Minister Nouri Maliki."

Allawi's Iraqiya coalition won 91 seats to 89 for Maliki's State of Law bloc, riding a wave of support from Sunnis frustrated with the current regime that they say has incited sectarian tensions and is too closely aligned with neighbouring Iran.

If Allawi's coalition remains on top, it will get the first opportunity to form a parliamentary majority and Iraq's next government, and complete his emergence from what once appeared to be the political graveyard.

But the results do not automatically mean that he will become the next prime minister, and the slim margin sets the stage for months of political wrangling.

Allawi seemed to waste no time, saying that he had already appointed someone from his coalition to begin negotiations with other political blocs.

"We will shift now to discussions for forming the next government," Allawi said. "We are working for a government that can make decisions and return Iraq back to its place in the Arab and Islamic world."

As yesterday's results were being announced, twin bombings hit a busy area in the town of Khalis, about 50 miles north of Baghdad - raising fears that political tensions could spill over into more violence just as US forces prepare to go home.

The police spokesman for Diyala province, Capt. Ghalib al-Karkhi, said 57 people had died and that 73 were wounded in the explosions, first from a car bomb that went off outside a restaurant and then from a roadside bomb just a few steps away.